St. Louis MO. Feb 17, 2008
Metro plans to put more armed guards, with more law enforcement experience, at its MetroLink light-rail stations.The Wackenhut Corp., based in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., took over security and fare enforcement duties from Whelan Security this month. Under Wackenhut’s three-year, $13.1 million contract, it will hire security guards with prior law enforcement, security or military police experience. Some will have police academy training.Metro officials say the agency ratcheted up armed security in the new contract because MetroLink trains now carry more people over a wider area than they once did. Officials also cited the need for stepped-up security after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.”There will be a significant increase in armed status,” said Willie McCuller, director of security and fare enforcement.
Ultimately, about 80 percent or more of the security guards will be armed, compared with about 20 percent under the previous security contract, McCuller said. Guards with weapons will have to be licensed in Missouri and Illinois to carry them throughout the two-state Metro system. Fare inspectors will not be armed.Many large transit agencies have their own police forces, but Metro does not. Metro has 21 security supervisors on staff with law enforcement experience, and the agency has 46 police officers under contract from St. Louis, St. Louis County and St. Clair County.
The transit agency employs part-time police officers in addition to security guards.Whelan Security patrolled the transit system and facilities for more than a decade, said Metro spokeswoman Dianne Williams. Wackenhut will earn more per year than the $3.27 million Whelan was paid in its most recent option year — from March 2006 to March 2007.
Wackenhut was selected in December over Whelan and Securitas Security Services of New Jersey. Securitas was the low bidder, at $11.5 million over three years. Wackenhut was in the middle, and St. Louis-based Whelan was the highest, at $14.3 million. Eighty percent of the firms’ scores was based on a technical evaluation, which reviewed experience, past performance and each firm’s approach.Wackenhut, whose St. Louis general manager is former St. Louis mayor and police chief Clarence Harmon, stood out because of its presentation and experience in dealing with transit properties, McCuller said.”Transit issues are unique in themselves,” he said.
“That had a lot to do with the decision.”Metro’s bid specifications require a company to provide armed guards for specific facilities for set times, but do not define how many guards must be hired.Wackenhut officials say that the company provides security services to transit agencies in nine states and that many of its contracts have been renewed multiple times. But the Miami Herald reported in January 2006 that current and former Wackenhut employees said the company could not cover its responsibility to provide security for Miami-Dade Transit. Miami-Dade County’s auditor is now reviewing Wackenhut’s contract billings with the Miami transit agency.
In an e-mail to the Post-Dispatch, Wackenhut officials said that the auditing of government contracts was not unusual and that allegations of overbilling were raised by “former disgruntled employees.” The company said it would be vindicated by the audit.Metro officials asked Wackenhut about the Miami-Dade audit and “were satisfied with the explanation they gave,” Williams said.In December, the Chicago-based utility Exelon Corp. announced it was replacing Wackenhut with in-house security forces at its 10 nuclear power plants after guards at a plant in Pennsylvania were found sleeping on the job.Wackenhut said in its e-mail that the incident at Exelon’s Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station involved one shift of officers and did not pose a risk to the surrounding community. The company added that “we do not believe there is a chance for this situation to arise in securing Metro’s system or facilities.”PERCEPTIONS VARY Metro officials played down the threat of crime on the 37-station MetroLink system.
Despite a few high-profile incidents in recent years, McCuller said, the system is safer than most of the communities through which it passes.In February 2007, a woman was raped after leaving a train at the Fifth and Missouri MetroLink station in East St. Louis. In May 2007, two people alleged they were robbed at a bus stop near MetroLink’s Wellston stop while the guard did nothing. A Metro investigation later cleared the security officers.MetroLink crime statistics for 2006, the most recent available, show assaults at 34, up from 17 the previous year. Other crimes such as robbery, auto theft and stealing showed little change.Public perceptions of transit system security vary widely. In a commuter survey by the advocacy group Citizens for Modern Transit last April, nearly 30 percent of respondents rated security on MetroLink trains as “very good” or “excellent.” But 16.2 percent described it as “poor.”"I think it can be improved,” frequent rider Margaret Morris of Florissant said Friday at the Forest Park station. “It’s a little uncomfortable riding when the kids get out of school. And during the day, when people seem to have nothing else to do, they’re just riding on the train.”But armed guards?”Most people, to me, feel safer when they see any kind of law enforcement presence, and they feel safer with their law enforcement with a sidearm,” said Wackenhut guard Gregory Moore, a former Whelan guard. “I’m not pro-gun. I’m not anti-gun. But it’s the simple fact that when people see them, they tend to calm down quicker.”Moore still has to get his certification and was not carrying a gun on Friday. Armed or not, Moore said, his job won’t be to confront but to “ask people to conform.”Some riders said armed security guards were unnecessary.”I’m not sure guns are the right answer,” said regular MetroLink rider Rosalind Brown of St. Louis. “That might encourage others to have guns.”
EMAIL US! Send news, comments or questions….. email@example.com
COME SEE OUR NEW WEBSITE!! NOW YOU CAN ADVERTISE THERE CHEAP!!
VISIT US AT MYSPACE.COM/privateofficernews
COME BE PART OF THIS EXCITING COMMUNITY!