BLANCO, Texas April 30 2020 If you’re itching to meet a Blanco police officer, park your car on either side of the ninety-degree bend where Lindeman Lane becomes Lindeman Circle and wait. You’ll usually see a personal vehicle with “Police” written on a magnet down its side when you get there, but if you don’t, it won’t be long before you’ll see a cruiser dispatched from the city to find out what you’re doing. Blanco police respond to the Kinder Morgan pipe storage yard even though it is outside the city limits. Blanco’s Police Department is one of many Hill Country law enforcement agencies working for The Athos Group, a private security firm based in Irving and Miami, Florida, according to the company’s Chief Operations Officer Jeff Sweetin. The firm has hired dozens of Texas peace officers from the Texas Department of Public Safety, Kimble County, Llano County, Gillespie County and City of Blanco.
But those jurisdictions are only the ones KXAN has been able to confirm by meeting them along the Permian Highway Pipeline route between Junction and Blanco. The security firm specializes in securing pipelines for large energy companies, according to its website. The Permian Highway Pipeline is a $2 billion, 428-mile transmission line that will connect the Permian Basin in West Texas to the Gulf Coast near Houston. The private security work has raised concerns among locals about conflicts of interest, and KXAN’s investigation discovered several law enforcement agencies involved in the private work keep no public records showing who their officers work for, when they work, or how they are contracted and paid. Just as we were finishing an interview outside the Blanco stockyard in March with members of a pipeline protest group called “Blanco Stop the Pipeline,” a large Ford pickup truck arrived at the yard’s locked entrance gate just yards away. Out stepped a man wearing a gun and a badge. He walked up to the locked gate and spun the lock’s combination.
The women we’d just interviewed identified the officer right away as Blanco Police Chief Mike Ritchey.“ Are you working on the pipeline, chief,” KXAN investigator Jody Barr asked Ritchey, as he unlocked the gate.“ I am. Why do you ask?” Ritchey said. “I see you unlocking their gate, I didn’t know if you were working for them,” Barr said. “Sure am,” Ritchey responded, as he took out his cell phone. “You must be doing security,” Barr said. “Yes, sir,” Ritchey responded, snapping a picture of Barr with his cell phone.