From 6 am until 5:30 pm—and often later—the New Mexico History Museum and Palace of the Governors fall into the capable hands of our security staff. Currently 14 people strong, the crew does everything from ensuring precious artifacts are safe to dealing with customer complaints, helping fix broken toilets, finding lost children, explaining portions of exhibits to visitors—and then some.
“A lot of things happen in a day that most people don’t see,” said Steve Baca, the museum’s security captain. “Most people don’t even realize how many things we have going on.”
Security shifts start at 6 am, when that day’s early-bird officer opens the museum to let the cleaning crew in. Other officers arrive at 8 am, unless it’s a Free Friday Evening day, when a third shift is delayed until 11 am. Those days last until 8:30 pm, but typically, officers are locking up the buildings at 5:30 pm.
If we have special events, then we’re looking at overtime hours and sometimes borrowing officers from our sister museums. When staffing is critically short, all museum workers may be asked to keep an eye on parts of the museum.
While on duty, officers rotate among seven posts that include the front desks, the Washington Avenue doors, and exhibition galleries throughout both buildings.
“I always tell them,” Baca said, “that we take a lot of things for granted because we’re around it all the time. `Oh, it’s just a painting.’ But you forget that the gallery is worth $3.5 million. Or that you can lose a kid in the building. Big things are going to happen, but if we pay attention to the small things, it all goes better.”
Officer training include annual CPR classes and an active-shooter course in case of an attack.
“People like working here because it’s history,” Security Sgt. Jason Jason Tapia said. “You get to meet people from all over the world. And for the younger guards, it’s a good steppingstone for them.”
Every officer brings different talents to the job, and Baca said the trick is finding out what they are and matching them to specific tasks. Who’s good at fixing things? Who’s good at getting unruly schoolchildren to line up? Who’s good at defusing a tense situation with humor?
“Some people work here because they like their culture, they like being downtown, being a part of history,” he said. “Some people just need a job. And there are people who enjoy history and are people persons, so they like talking to visitors.”
During the off-season, when the museums are closed on Mondays, guards pitch in on major cleaning chores, grounds keeping and building maintenance. Before an exhibition opens, you’ll often find one or several of them repairing and painting gallery walls.
For all that, the most common complaint they face from the public is this: Why doesn’t the Palace look like a PALACE? What we lack in splendor we make up for in history, and for most of the guards, that translates into something very personal.
“They take the buildings on as theirs, as their home,” Baca said. “They’re all working as hard as they can on a daily basis, trying to make it the best experience for someone who’s coming in. They’re the front line, 365 days a year, and they’re there for everything. They put up the best front whether they’re in a good mood or not to get people to come back. It blows my mind sometimes how well they do that.”