Part of a new $486,000 federal grant will be used to pay for two of the officers and the East St. Louis Housing Authority will pay for six of the guards.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Springfield, visited the John DeShields housing complex Friday to publicize the Housing and Urban Development grant.
Durbin said he went to the complex a year ago and he wanted to tell the residents he is keeping his promise to fight violent crime in East St. Louis, where he previously lived.”Individuals who cause trouble for these families and elderly people are not welcome,” Durbin said.
In February, Durbin said security cameras, fences and new lights would be added to East St. Louis public housing complexes in an effort to fight crime.
He announced at that time that $400,000 in federal money would be used to start the project. One of the new fences is being built at John DeShields.”
Since we had the fencing, a lot of traffic and drug dealing has stopped,” said Lillie Dixon, who lives in the John DeShields complex. “Kids can play in the parking lot.”Elizabeth Tolliver, executive director of the East St. Louis Housing Authority, said funding for six of the security guards will be made possible because security cameras will be installed in some high-rise buildings and guards who had been stationed there will be able to move out to other complexes.
The effort, though, has been beset by glitches, legal questions and concerns that some of the constables submitted questionable documentation of the hours they worked.
Some security industry professionals say the use of constables as beat cops is illegal. Others say the authority’s bidding process was improper. A constable who was central to organizing the effort, but who was fired shortly after it was fully implemented, said last week that his fellow constables may be working in a manner that runs afoul of the rules.
Authority Executive Director A. Fulton Meachem Jr. said the constables project was cost-effective, and that crime in the city’s public housing communities fell last year by 3 percent.
“We felt like it was imperative that we had a very trained workforce out there working for our residents,” he said.
He defended the process by which the authority awarded a $1.23 million-per-year constable management contract to Carnegie-based Victory Security, but skirted questions about the legality of the program. “If the law at this point allows [the constable program], then we should have the opportunity to do it.”
The authority long had its own police, but merged it into the Pittsburgh Police Bureau in 2007 to shave its $4 million-a-year cost. The authority agreed to pay the city $1 million a year for three years to provide enhanced police coverage of its communities, but that arrangement ended in 2010.
The city still polices the communities, but authority residents missed having more direct contact with officers, Mr. Meachem said. Believing that security guards wouldn’t have the necessary training, and police would cost $45 an hour, the authority settled on constables.
Constables are state-certified professionals, some elected and others appointed by district judges, who are trained in legal processes and use of firearms. They are independent contractors who are paid piecemeal for arrests, service of warrants and subpoenas, and other work they do for district judges.
Last year, the authority held a bidding process and hired Castle Shannon-based Specialized Security Response Inc. to provide and manage constables for $1.8 million a year. But there were “scheduling deficiencies,” said Clare Ann Fitzgerald, the authority’s general counsel, so SSR was dismissed.
The authority in February invited companies to submit proposals for “constable services” or “the equivalent in certification or current training.” Some said they were confused by that language, and weren’t sure whether the authority was demanding bona fide constables or would settle for something similar.
The authority picked Victory Security, which offered to provide constables for $30.44 an hour for 3,360 hours a year. The authority would not reveal the price quotes of losing bidders, saying only that it weighed the companies’ experience, capacity, fees, strategy, minority- and women-owned business participation and willingness to hire residents of low-income areas.
Victory Security’s contract is more than $500,000 a year cheaper than SSR’s was. It’s unclear if any other bidder had a lower price.
“You have to look at more than just simply price,” said Mr. Meachem, declining to detail the factors that led to Victory Security’s hire.
“I think [Victory Security's edge] was me and the bid,” said Constable Brian Van Dusen of the Hill District, who served as operations manager for the project until May 1. “Victory Security really had no idea what a constable was, what a constable did, how to find them. … I brought the expertise and the manpower and the ability to operate the contract.”
Mr. Van Dusen said he eventually realized some of the constables working under him were sending in their Daily Activity Reports hours before the ends of their shifts, making it impossible to verify they had worked the entire shift. He showed the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette electronic reports for eight-hour shifts that, according to the electronic file properties, were finalized two to four hours before shift’s end. He said he reported it to Victory Security president Kathleen Bowman. She then “told me they don’t need me anymore.”
Ms. Bowman could not be reached for comment.
On the day he was fired, Mr. Van Dusen texted the authority’s safety director, Joy Pekar-Miller, who oversees the contract. “Recently I have uncovered some very damaging information,” he wrote to her in texts shared with the Post-Gazette. “I discovered over 35-50 instances of individuals lying on the DAR’s & Sign in sheets.” She responded, asking whether that was the reason for his firing, and he suggested that she pull the recent sign-in sheets.
The text thread, said authority Chief Community Affairs Officer Michelle Jackson on Friday, “doesn’t give you any specifics. … It doesn’t give a time frame. And all of our invoices check out.”
The allegation of false reporting, she said, “is very vague. It’s like saying, ‘The constables didn’t show up.’ Where? When?”
Some of the companies that bid on the contract but lost said it was never clear to them whether they had to commit to providing constables, or could line up similarly trained security guards.
Some said they didn’t get due consideration from the authority. “We believe that our firm and management team had the ability to do this scope of work,” said Joseph Diven of St. Moritz Security Services. “But unfortunately we were not brought in for the interview process.”
Some security firms question whether the authority’s use of constables has crossed legal lines.
Mr. Meachem said he’s convinced the process and approach are valid. Constables, he said, are helping keep his tenants safe.
Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
COVINGTON GA Sept 15 2011 – Criminals who intend to target the Covington Housing Authority had better think twice: There will be an increased police presence there thanks to an agreement reached to hire off-duty officers to work security.
#Police Chief Stacey Cotton notified the Covington City Council at its Sept. 6 meeting that Housing Authority Director Greg Williams requested the arrangement due to an increase in criminal activity at the complex off Alcovy Road.
#The Housing Authority will pay off-duty police officers to work in four-hour shifts during what are traditionally peak times for complaints, Cotton said. The officers will be paid $35 per hour by the Housing Authority.
#Officers will be on foot, on golf carts and at times in vehicles. The Housing Authority will not pay for the use of CPD vehicles, but Cotton said they are needed because of the size of the complex and for safety.
#”We benefit if we need to lock somebody in the car or if we need to stop a vehicle, we’ll have the blue lights,” he said.
#As with all side jobs, the shifts will be posted in the Police Department and all officers will have an equal opportunity to work, Cotton said.
#There is a recurring problem with trespassing by individuals who have been banned from the property due to past criminal acts. CPD officers will be on the lookout for those individuals and have the authority to ban others when warranted, he said. They will also work with residents to address their concerns.
#The CPD previously had a precinct at the Housing Authority that was funded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Funding was pulled a few years ago, and the precinct was closed.
#”Obviously without our attention (the criminals) are out again,” he said. But now, “If they’re willing to fund it, we’re willing to do it.”
#The council was not required to vote on the matter, but informally expressed support for the arrangement.