In Honduras the number of private security personnel outnumbers that of police several times over. While there are around 110 police in the Bay Islands, Bay Islands Voice estimates that around 400 people are currently working in private security companies, with another 300 security guards contracted by private individuals to serve as watchmen.
Hiring a good security company, or a watchman, especially during the holidays when crime on the island spikes, can be a hit-or-miss affair. Your house could end up under the protection of a disgruntled, non-English-speaking “watchie-man” sleeping in your garage with a machete under his head.
Fortunately some security companies are standardizing their staff selection, uniforms and training and are offering a more predictable service to clients. One of these companies is Bulldog Security, launched in January, 2011. “The island has been hijacked, and we need to take it back,” said Alexander Annett, owner of Bulldog Security who worked as a contract lawyer in Washington, DC, for 10 years before coming to Roatan.
The company’s approach to their employees is different from most security companies’ approaches. Instead of hiring young, only Spanish-speaking men, the company works only with local, bilingual islander men, and–almost unheard of in Honduras–women. Bulldog currently has three island women working as security guards.
From the 257 people interviewed, Bulldog eventually ended up hiring 17, a number which has tripled in size in the last 10 months. Every potential employee’s criminal background is checked; they are tested for drugs; they are placed in a variety of tests and finally go through a 10-day training regimen. Under training led by Morris Brooks, an ex-Honduran Navy Chief trainer, the new guards spend time learning how to use their weapons, participating in self defense and confidence building exercises, even sleeping outside in the bush. The entire interview and training process takes two and a half months. When it’s all done, “we know their ministers, the school they went to, their cousins and their friends,” says Annett.
All Bulldog security staff carries mace, a baton, handcuffs, radio and a flashlight. Most of them also carry guns: 38s, 380, berretta handguns or shotguns. “It all depends on the client’s needs,” says Annett. In fact the company is so well equipped and organized that “we sometimes have to drive the police to the crime scene,” says Annett.
The company uses a combination of hi-tech and local, feet-on-the-ground knowledge to watch over 62 West Bay homes and provide security for six resorts through the island: from Palmetto Bay to Infinity Bay.
“When they [robbers] see a blue pulsating light, they think its something out of science fiction. They think they better move on and find another house to rob,” says Annett. “If not–we’re on them in 5 minutes.” While Bulldog is focusing on homes and resorts in West Bay, in the next few months the company plans on expanding in Sandy Bay.
More of a “typical” and old school Honduran security company is SISTEC, a security company with a contract to provide security to Banco Atlantida. There are five security men with guns and rifles guarding the Coxen Hole’s Atlantida Bank working in 12-hour shifts. “The worse is when the drunks come out at night,” explained a SISTEC guard who has worked at Coxen Hole for five years. According to SISTEC personnel, the security men receive weapons training every month, firing weapons “somewhere in Oak Ridge.”
Another security company on the island is SEPROV (Servicios de Proteccion y Vigilancia) owned and managed by Sergio Peña, who worked on Roatan as a national policemen. After 11 years on the force, he retired and for eight years worked as head of security for Sun Supermarkets. In business since 2007, SEPROV has grown to around 50 security guards who watch over a dozen homes and several businesses: Sun Water, Sun Supermarkets and Shell gasoline station.
Peña prefers to work with men who have a military background: “They can start after one day of training,” he says. Otherwise Peña says that he has to spend up to 120 hours in training and screening a candidate.
In Honduras and Roatan security positions have sometimes attracted people with violent pasts. Stories abound of security staff being involved in robberies of the very properties they were hired to guard, even in homicides. “I fired a man with a problem and he just went to work for another security company. I notified them of the problem, but he is still working there,” says Peña, adding that he has tried to start a security companies association for years. Peña estimates that around a dozen security companies exist on Roatan, but still with no coordination and with little dialogue about issues at hand.
While most hours of a Roatan security guard’s watch are routine, they are occasionally spiked with adrenaline filled moments. About two years ago SEPROV guards came under fire in an apparent robbery attempt as they escorted a truck delivering food stuffs. This is not atypical: in 2009 a security driver working for PROVAL, a security firm transporting cash between banks and ferry, was shot dead during a robbery. [/private]