The news that a mysterious private security contractor has been hired to take control of a prison in the tiny Montana town of Hardin has set off some outlandish conspiracy theories — like the notion that the deal represents the first wave of President Obama’s plan to “have all major cities locked down” by the end of October.
But one related concern — that the contractor, now calling itself the American Private Police Force, could take over law enforcement duties for Hardin — turns out not to be far-fetched at all. Indeed, the agreement that APPF — at the time known simply as American Police Force (APF) — signed with city’s economic development arm, the Two Rivers Authority (TRA), specifically provides for that possibility.
The notably bare-bones contract — just 11 pages covering a deal to operate a prison — was obtained last month by the Billings Gazette. It states:
[APPF] shall have the option to enter into a separate agreement with TRA for the purpose of constructing a law enforcement training center on the premises of the Two Rivers Detention Center and/or to provide additional law enforcement services to the TRA and/or the City of Hardin. (our itals)
For years, Hardin has been embroiled in a dispute with Big Horn County over its desire to provide its own law enforcement services, rather than relying on the county sheriff’s office.
[Company official Michael] Hilton said APF has proposed that, if Hardin creates a police department, the company would provide the initial officers and hire a local chief of police. APF has already purchased Mercedes vehicles that are being outfitted and will be available for patrol cars, Hilton said.
The training center also could provide some officers to support the city, he said.
Soon after, APPF officials rolled into Hardin in those Mercedes vehicles — SUVs, in fact — sporting logos that said “City of Hardin Police Department.” After that sparked concern among some residents, both the company and the TRA appeared to backtrack in their public statements, downplaying APPF’s ambitions to take over law enforcement, and focusing exclusively on the prison project.
In other words, it was not far-fetched to imagine that a shady security contractor with a history of criminal fraud and alcoholism, who has released scant information about his company’s background, could have been put in charge of a town’s law enforcement operations.
That may be the scariest point of all in this entire episode.