Bail bondsman tells of search, rescue missions

The covert operation started with the opening of a sliding-glass door. Mark Derr peered through his binoculars. He spotted his mark. In minutes Derr’s team swooped in.

With the girl by their sides, the men flashed their guns when guards approached. The men backed off.

They escorted her to the car and headed toward Charlotte.

A tale like one you’d read in a page-turning novel, Derr experienced while rescuing victims of human trafficking — modern-day slaves.

A Lincolnton bail bondsman, Derr also heads up a rescue team called RPR Services, which stands for “rescue, protect, recovery.”

The four-man team mostly serves as bodyguards for special events. But their services expanded when Derr was contacted by a church in California. The church had got-ten messages online from an enslaved woman in Atlanta. She and other women spent months in a condo where they were forced into prostitution.

“If any of them tried to leave, they were threatened with being hurt or killed,” Derr said.

She pleaded for help. The church put Derr on the job.

Derr communicated with the woman online, devising a plan to “pull her out.”

It was the first time Derr was exposed to the reality of human trafficking. He and his team rescued the woman from the secret prison and flew her out to California where she was linked to an organization that helps victims of human trafficking.

Women ‘for sale’ online

Derr said he was amazed at the business set up where the woman was kept.

“It was very crazy how big of an operation this guy had — from Atlanta to Texas,” he said.

Derr videoed the rescue and turned information over to local police.

He interviewed the young woman who said she’d been held captive for two months. She told Derr that her captor planned to sell her, posting her picture on Craigslist.

Derr did some investigating and saw where women’s pictures were being posted online with “for sale” stamped across their faces.

Many of those ads were on Craigslist, according to Derr. Craigslist cracked down, but if people in the human trafficking business get pushed off one website, they’ll just find another, Derr said.

“It’s crazy. These girls are being advertised for sale on the Internet,” he said.

N.C. among top-10 worst states

And if those sales cross international borders, it’s virtually impossible to get the women back home, he said.

Derr’s team has only worked a handful of similar cases, but those few instances opened Derr’s eyes to the disturbing multimillion-dollar sex-slave industry.

N.C. has consistently been ranked in the top 10 states for human trafficking. That number could jump significantly when the Democratic National Convention comes to Charlotte in August.

Human trafficking victims’ advocacy groups are spreading the word to hotel workers to be on the lookout. The thought is that with world travelers coming in for the big event, pimps will bring in more enslaved women than ever.

An estimated 200,000 to 300,000 American children are trafficked into the commercial sex industry each year.

The life expectancy of someone involved in human trafficking is five years.

“Once these girls are used up, they’re killed or you don’t ever see them again,” Derr said. “They think they’re going to be taken care of, and they get forced into slavery.”

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Private Security Industry’s Expected Growth!

Relax and rejoice PI’s and Security Officers! The private security industry is one sector of the economy that is projected to benefit from both perception and reality. Private security is projected to grow more than 6 percent in 2012 – the largest increase in nine years, according to a 2010 IBIS World Industry Report on Security Services in the U.S. The same report shows that businesses are reevaluating where their recovered dollars should be spent and investing in better security. Although the overall mood in the United States is still sour due to the perceived state of the economy, at least according to 55 percent of responders to a recent Pew Research Center study, another source shows that businesses are actually beginning to rebound from the 2007-2009 recession.

According to the IBIS research, between the years 2010 and 2015, companies will increase their security budgets as business sentiment improves and more funds become available. Many businesses will increase the number of contracted security staff, as well as the number of hours that guards are on duty. The rise in demand is projected to cause industry revenue to increase by 4.9 percent per year to $32.85 billion at the end of 2015.

Although we have this projected estimation, like we said before, it depends on both perception and reality of the economy. The Pew study shows that Americans consider the economy in an even worse position than in 2008, when the nation was in the middle of the recession. At that time, only 34 percent of Americans saw the country’s economic future as bleak. Today, that number is up to 55 percent. This negative perception also drives the security business, causing Americans to take extra precautions against crimes of opportunity – those that are committed when people grow desperate as a result of their jobless, financial situation.

Another factor driving the security industry’s projected growth is the reduction of government jobs. According to the February jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, one-fifth of the industries with the largest projected wage and salary employment declines are government agencies or municipalities. Existing public safety personnel, including local law enforcement, will go on the chopping block – leading to outsourcing.

In late February 2012, a government-owned and operated electricity company in Tennessee laid off61 percent of its uniformed police officers and replaced them with enhanced security technology and more contract security guards at its critical non-nuclear energy sites. This is just one example of public budgets feeling the squeeze and opening the door for private security, which generally provides more affordable protection than traditional law enforcement – with the added benefit of keeping the reduced number of traditional law enforcement officers on the streets, patrolling areas that are more impacted by serious crime.

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Mexican Mayhem Fuels U.S. ‘Bodyguard’ Boom

On the surface, the drug war across the border boils down to a conflict between Mexico’s military and rival groups of cartels. This is true, but it leaves out Mexico’s other conflict — one fought against civilians through kidnapping, extortion and assassination. Little wonder that those who can afford it are now fueling a boom in professional bodyguards and guns-for-hire, many of them based in the United States.

And the boom is not just limited to jobs in Mexico — it’s happening on both sides of the border. It involves private security firms employed by both Mexican and U.S. citizens traveling from one country to the other, to border regions, or fueled by Mexican citizens relocating to the U.S. to escape the violence. The jobs given to the bodyguards involve protecting their clients against violent cartel threats and abductions, and helping negotiate kidnapping cases.

There are also serious risks. Some companies won’t work in Mexico proper because of the danger, while others do so — quietly.

R. Kent Morrison, president of Texas security firm BlackStone Group, hates the term bodyguard. For the heavily-built ex-Navy commando and Gulf War veteran, the term suggests a “big hulking gorilla with dark sunglasses and the trench coat.” Tucked away in a small office building in the wooded suburbs of west Austin, BlackStone is among a number of companies near the border competing in the more exclusive field of “executive protection,” security industry lingo for a more elite (and expensive) brand of hired muscle.

“Historically in the U.S., security has been the stereotypical, polyester-clad, eight-dollar-an-hour security guard, and that more than anything is just a way to reduce liability insurance costs,” Morrison says. “What we do is focus on providing security to usually high-net-worth individuals who actually have a need for security and aren’t provided that by some government entity.”

But when discussing Mexico, Morrison is cautious. He says BlackStone is seeing growth from Mexican nationals, mostly business executives traveling north, but only gives a rough estimate and doesn’t give out the names of individual customers. “I’ll tell you in the last five years the requests that we’ve had for those types of services from individuals and businessmen traveling from south of the border has probably doubled,” he said.

He says having a security detail in Mexico is now a literal “status symbol” for the country’s elite. And as that elite relocates to states like Texas because of violence or travels to do business, “they want to duplicate the services that they’ve grown accustomed to down south.”

This caution to discuss specifics reflects the shadowy and hazardous nature of Mexico’s private security business. Clayton International, an “executive protection” and counter-kidnapping subsidiary of longtime Iraq mercenary group Triple Canopy, and reported to work extensively in Mexico, said it would not answer questions from Danger Room due the “sensitivity of the subject.” Philip Klein, president of Houston-area Klein Investigations and Consulting, said his company has seen a 120 percent increase over the past two years, from 55 “sorties” to Mexico in 2009 to 121 last year. Klein expects the “unrest to continue down there, unless the government can get control,” and therefore more business for his company. But Klein is reluctant to discuss details.

One reason for the reluctance, according to a Triple Canopy employee speaking on background to Danger Room, is sheer risk. “The thing about working in Mexico is despite what movies or T.V. or popular perception might be is that nobody down there is armed on an executive protection detail. The Mexicans will not allow it — period,” the employee said. And not only that, if the cartels do attempt an assassination, they will “kill the protective detail too just to make sure all the loose ends are tied up.”

Mexico does indeed prohibit foreign nationals from carrying weapons. Instead, companies have subcontracted out the gun-slinging to Mexican freelancers and local firms. Rather than an armed U.S. mercenary team, a typical security detail includes two unarmed “detail leaders” from the U.S. in charge of four armed Mexican guards, hired from local firms or police officers moonlighting for extra pay. The U.S. agents call the shots and pick the travel routes, while the Mexican guards provide the muscle and firepower.

But the reliance U.S. mercs have on their armed Mexican subcontractors comes with another set of risks: the subcontractors can be easily out-bidded. Morrison said that “on a Tuesday, this group may be a completely solid group and Thursday they’ve been corrupted by the cartels.”

But whether the demand in border states like Texas is being fueled by actual threats of kidnapping or just the fear it could happen, however, is hard to ascertain. But Mexican citizens are facing a different level of risk. In a nod to the reality of the sometimes blurry distinctions between legitimate business in Mexico and organized crime, Morrison added that clients have told him: “‘A competitor made a play for my company and I have to come in and make sure they don’t strengthen that play by snatching my kid.’”

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