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Private firm to secure Windham County courts

Securitas USA to provide armed security services in Brattleboro and Newfane, starting Sept. 1.

BRATTLEBORO—A multinational security company has been hired to protect two Windham County courthouses and another in Chittenden County.

State officials announced Tuesday that Securitas USA — a subsidiary of Sweden-based security giant Securitas AB — will replace Windham County sheriff’s deputies at courthouses in Brattleboro and Newfane on Sept. 1.

On the same date, Securitas also will take over for a private contractor that had been providing security at the civil/probate division courthouse in Burlington.

The state’s total contract with Securitas is $618,255 for 22 months with an option for a one-year extension. The deal does not reduce the state’s costs, but security will be enhanced at all three facilities, said Matt Riven, finance and administration chief for the Vermont Court Administrator’s Office.

“In both counties, the amount is actually slightly higher than what was offered to the incumbents — in Windham, because we were able to slightly increase the security staffing coverage, and in Chittenden, because we were able to transition to an armed screening officer,” Riven said.

The change comes as officials wrangle with court security issues statewide: Vermont Court Administrator Patricia Gabel has lobbied for an additional $1.8 million over two years to add security staff, which a survey has shown is far below national “best practices” standards.

Though the Legislature did allocate an additional $615,000 in the current fiscal year for court security infrastructure, there was no extra money in the budget for court officers.

And that may be a problem for Vermont’s sheriffs, who provide most of the state’s court security on a contractual basis.

Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark has said he notified state officials more than two years ago that Vermont’s payment was “getting unsustainable” because it did not cover his costs.

The situation came to a head when Clark declined to renew his courthouse security contract after the state offered a 3.5 percent increase for fiscal year 2017, which began July 1. The two sides agreed on a two-month extension, and the state began searching for a new security provider.

While the Securitas contract is about 6 percent more than the state had offered Clark, Riven said the sheriff “had requested an approximately 35 percent increase, which the Judicial Branch could not accept in these austere times in state government.”

Clark said that figure is misleading, since it does not account for the fact that his department needed to provide more staffing than had been contractually obligated.

“The court refuses to acknowledge what it’s actually going to take (to protect courthouses),” Clark said.

The sheriff said he was “not surprised” by the new Securitas contract but is “a little disappointed in the state that they decide to outsource it to a company outside the region.”

“I wish the court well, and hopefully everyone will work through it,” he said. “I haven’t seen a transition plan.”

Clark said his department won’t be training the new court security officers.

Gabel, in a statement accompanying the contract announcement, said she expects “to work successfully with the sheriff’s office as well as other court users to make this transition as smooth as possible.”

She also said the state’s judicial branch “is most fortunate that, through an expedited competitive bid process, we were able to obtain a quality proposal from a nationally recognized security provider.”

Riven said the court security proposal was offered to six companies. “We had detailed discussions with those firms, but in the end Securitas was the only firm to formally bid,” he said.

The company is a major player in the security business. According to the companies’ websites, Securitas USA has offices in more than 200 cities nationwide, and Securitas AB has about 330,000 employees in 53 countries.

Locally, Securitas was hired this year to take over security operations at the shut-down Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in Vernon.

Securitas will be managing the new court security contract — which includes an armed presence at each courthouse — from its South Burlington office. A person who answered the phone at that office referred all requests for comment to the state.

Windham County services make up the bulk of the contract. Riven said the state will pay $23,027 monthly for court security in Brattleboro and Newfane, while the Chittenden County costs are $5,075 per month.

In Burlington, private security contractor J.A. Cronan Associates “has provided long-standing service to the Judiciary, which we very much appreciate,” Riven said. But he added that the change in Windham’s contract “provided a logical opportunity to consolidate our relationship with a single security firm” in both counties.

While state officials praised Securitas’ experience and infrastructure, they also said they’ll be closely monitoring the company’s performance in the Windham and Chittenden courts: Riven said the state’s review will be “continuous, and there is a 30-day termination notice agreement included.”

Clark wondered whether the state might be entering more such private security agreements in the near future, given the cost constraints faced by Vermont sheriffs who depend on contractual revenue.

“I suspect that I won’t be the last sheriff who will have to give up a court contract,” he said.

Riven didn’t dispute that possibility. He acknowledged the need for more court security staff and said the only solution is additional funding from the Legislature.

“The transition to Securitas will not rectify that issue and was not intended to,” he said. “Rather, the move to Securitas was a necessity to ensure and continue the basic level of security staffing we have now.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #367 (Wednesday, July 27, 2016). This story appeared on page A1.

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