(A message from Nora Callahan, 9/29/09: Curious if anyone has any information about American Police Force. I had not heard of this company until today. Anyone in California familiar with them? Is this the beginning of awarding domestic policing to private contractors?
From the company website: "American Police Force is dedicated to maintaining our well deserved professional reputation as a results oriented full-service private investigative and security agency by way of commitment, diligence, unique resources, creativity, and tenacity on behalf of our clients. American Police Force leverages the talent and expertise of their extensive global network to provide local, regional, and national security solutions to the United States Government and other clients who are in need of customized private investigative services. Some of our services include highly sophisticated background checks, asset searches, undercover investigations both domestic & international, and much more.")
BILLINGS -- An empty jail where promoters tried unsuccessfully to bring Guantanamo Bay terrorism detainees has landed a 10-year operating contract with a private security firm that says it wants to sharply expand the lockup.
The deal to house hundreds of low- and medium-security inmates in the Hardin jail involves American Police Force, a California-based security company.
City leaders trumpeted the agreement as a potential savior for a $27 million economic development project that has become a civic embarrassment after sitting idle for more than two years.
But outside Hardin, skepticism lingered.
A California corrections system spokesman, Gordon Hinckle,
said there was "no truth" to assertions by city officials
that prisoners from California would likely be housed in the
jail. And U.S. Marshal Dwight MacKay in Billings rebutted claims
that federal prisoners could be involved.
Full terms of the contract were not provided. But Albert Peterson, vice president of Hardin's Two Rivers Authority, the city's quasi-public economic development agency, said the agency would receive $5 per prisoner a day and enough additional money to pay off $27 million in bonds still owed on the jail.
Those bonds went into default last year. Peterson is also superintendent of Hardin's public schools.
An American Police Force representative who asked to remain anonymous because of security concerns said the existing 464-bed jail would be expanded to include a 102,000-square-foot military and law enforcement training center, homeless shelter, animal shelter and possibly enough beds for as many as 2,000 prisoners.
He said the firm did not yet have contracts for inmates, but expected to get at least 1,000 now that it has a place to house them.
He said the firm plans to invest $30 million in new construction at the jail site at the edge of Hardin, a town of 3,500 located about 45 miles southeast of Billings.
That includes at least $17 million for the training center, which is envisioned to offer everything from sniper training to DNA analysis for domestic and international law enforcement and military personnel.
But the operating contract, signed Sept. 4, is limited to the existing jail, said Two Rivers' executive director Greg Smith.
"All this stuff kind of takes time," he said. "The focus here to me is on the detention center - get the thing open and run it."
Smith said he had been told by American Police Force representatives that the company had been in the detention business years ago, but said he had not inquired further and did not have any details.
An executive with the jail's former contractor, CiviGenics, said he had never heard of American Police Force.
The security firm, based in Santa Ana, claims to have 28 employees in the United States and 1,600 contractors worldwide. Those claims could not be verified.
Smith declined to answer questions about the contract, but said he would make the document public after presenting it to the Hardin City Council next Tuesday.
Members of the authority and Hardin officials have spent much of the last two years searching for inmate contracts to no avail. Asked about the likelihood of American Police Force succeeding, Smith said he was confident the first batch of 150 to 200 prisoners would be in place by mid-January.
He said the first payment under the contract is due Sept. 1.
On its Web site, American Police Force lists services ranging
from convoy security in war zones such as Iraq to assault weapons
sales and investigations into cheating spouses. It was registered
in March as a California corporation, under the name American
Private Police Force Org Inc.
But it has remained empty after the administration of Gov. Brian Schweitzer said it had no need for the facility and other contracts never materialized.
"Thank you, governor, for turning Hardin down, because now we've got something that's 10 times better," Peterson said.
The facility's prior contract operator, CiviGenics, left about six months ago.
Montana Department of Corrections spokesman Bob Anez said his agency was not involved in the deal between Two Rivers and American Police Force.
September 29, 2009 -- CBS News (US)
American Police Force Corporation Takes Over Small Town Police Force and Prisoner-Less Jail
By Neil Katz
HARDIN, Mont. (CBS/AP) This is the strange story of how American Police Force, a little known company which claims to specialize in training military and security forces overseas, has seemingly taken control of a $27 million, never-used jail, and a rural Montana town's nonexistent police force.
After arriving in this tiny city with three Mercedes SUVs marked with the logo of a police department that has never existed, representatives of the obscure California security company said preparations were under way to take over Hardin's jail, which has no prisoners.
Significant obstacles remain -- including a lack of any contracts to acquire prisoners from other jails or other states.
And on Friday came the revelation the company's operating agreement for the facility has yet to be validated -- two weeks after city leaders first unveiled what they said was a signed agreement.
Still, some Hardin leaders said the deal to turn over the 464-bed jail remained on track.
The agreement with American Police Force has been heavily promoted by members of the city's economic development branch, the Two Rivers Authority. Authority Vice President Albert Peterson on Friday repeated his claim to be "100 percent" confident in the company.
The lead public figure for American Police Force, Michael Hilton, said more than 200 employees would be sought for the jail and a proposed military and law enforcement training center.
That would be a significant boost to Hardin, a struggling town of 3,500 located about 45 miles east of Billings. An earlier announcement that a job fair would be held during the last week never came to fruition.
The bonds used to pay for the jail have been in default since May, 2008.
Hilton also said he planned a helicopter tour of the region in coming days to look at real estate for a planned tactical military training ground. He said 5,000 to 10,000 acres were needed to complement the training center, a $17 million project.
But the company's flashy arrival this week stirred new questions. The logo on the black Mercedes SUVs said "City of Hardin Police Department."
Yet the city has not had a police force of its own for 30 years.
"Pretty looking police car, ain't it?" Hardin resident Leroy Frickle, 67, said as he eyed one of the vehicles parked in front of a bed and breakfast where Hilton and other company representatives were staying. "The things you hear about this American Police, I don't know what to think."
Hilton said the vehicles would be handed over to the city if it forms a police force of its own. The city is now under the jurisdiction of the Big Horn County Sheriff's Office.
After meeting briefly with Hilton on Friday, Mayor Ron Adams said he wanted the police logos removed.
"This helps, but it doesn't answer everything until the contract is signed," Adams said. "Talk is cheap."
Hilton said the company's arrival in Hardin would help allay such concerns. And he promised that on Feb. 1, 2010, Hardin would receive its first check under a deal said to be worth more than $2.6 million annually.
Little has been revealed to date about American Police Force. The company was incorporated in California in March, soon after Hardin's empty jail gained notoriety after city leaders suggested it could be used for the Guantanamo Bay terrorism detainees.
Members of Montana's congressional delegation say they have been closely monitoring the events in Hardin, but the city has largely been going it alone.
In the two years since the jail was built, city leaders have clashed repeatedly with the administration of Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who opposed efforts to bring in out-of-state prisoners.
After then-Attorney General Mike McGrath issued a 2007 opinion saying prisoners from other states were prohibited, Hardin successfully sued the state.
Despite the city's contention that the state has continued to foil its efforts to find prisoners, Montana Department of Corrections spokesman Bob Anez said his agency is no longer involved. "That's water under the bridge," Anez said.
On Friday, American Police Force announced its first local hire: a reporter for the Billings Gazette, Becky Shay, who has covered events surrounding the jail since its construction. She will be the company's spokeswoman for $60,000 a year.
Shay said she intended to bring new transparency to the process, but declined to directly answer the first question posed to her: Where is American Police Force getting the money to operate the jail and build the training center?
"I know enough about where the money is coming from to be confident signing on with them," she said.
Gazette Editor Steve Prosinski said he was first informed about Shay's decision to leave the paper on Friday. "We weren't aware that she was talking with them about employment," he said.
Hilton said he also had a job discussion with Kerri Smith, wife of Two Rivers Authority Executive Director Greg Smith, who helped craft the deal to bring American Police Force to Hardin. Greg Smith was placed on unpaid leave two weeks ago for reasons that have not been explained.
Kerri Smith is one of two finalists in the city's mayoral race. Hilton said he asked her to call him about possible employment if she did not win the race.
Kerri Smith could not be reached immediately for comment. A message was left by The Associated Press at a theater owned by the Smith family. Her home number is unlisted.
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