Hospital Guard Tab Rises over Concern with Forensic Patients

With firm on watch at Parkland, costs go up and inmates slip out

The Sheriff's Department picked up the slack, working 17,559 hours during that time. Using median salary figures, that translates roughly into $463,000 just in overtime costs.

Prior to the Greer contract, the county spent an average of about $340,000 per year from 2000 to 2003 for hospital guards. That did not include overtime. But county officials never crunched the numbers to learn how much overtime was spent.

County budget director Ryan Brown said he believes the county was spending about $1 million per year in regular and overtime pay combined. He said that was his best guess from discussions with sheriff's captains about overtime hours.

But Chief Deputy Mona Birdwell said she believes overtime costs were closer to a half-million dollars a year.

According to county documents, Greer can be paid up to $1 million a year for its services.

Dallas County is the only large county in Texas to outsource hospital guard service. Greer typically guards low-risk prisoners charged with misdemeanors or nonviolent felonies. Serious offenders are chained to beds and watched by sheriff's detention officers or deputies.

Greer was one of eight security companies to bid on the contract in 2003. Greer, which had 78 employees and five years of experience, was initially the third-lowest bidder, offering to do the job for $621,600. But Greer won the contract after the two companies with lower bids withdrew.

At the time, Greer had only 11 or 12 guards who had the required state certification, but the company said more of its guards would be trained, according to a 2003 purchasing department memo.

Two years later, when the county renewed Greer's contract for the second time in October, a majority of the company's employees still were not state licensed, county memos said, resulting in more Sheriff's Department overtime.

As early as November 2004, the district attorney's civil division sent a letter to Mr. Greer, asking him to comply with the contract terms.

"Dallas County believes that you have been remiss in your obligation to provide hospital guards within the agreed upon time requirements," Bob Schell, chief of the civil division, wrote in the letter.

It wasn't the first time complaints were lodged against the company.

In 2004, then-Chief Deputy Lana Porter provided complaints and data from her department and Parkland security to county staff members, according to a county memo dated Dec. 9 of that year. It did not state the nature of the complaints.

But her investigation ended with her retirement. She could not be reached for comment.

Capt. Ray Daberko, then an assistant chief deputy, wrote in the memo that it would be difficult to go forward with the complaints because Chief Porter was no longer around to interpret and explain them. He proposed an agreement with Greer under which the sheriff would "suspend prosecuting the termination of the contract," according to the memo.

"Essentially, everyone is born 1/1/05 and prior to that date has done nothing either wrong or right," Capt. Daberko wrote, an apparent reference to the date Sheriff Lupe Valdez was sworn in. "The new sheriff should not be bound with an existing convoluted complaint."

County staffers say no record of that complaint can be found. Capt. Daberko was at a retreat last week and was unavailable for comment.

Prior to winning the county hospital guard contract, Greer did work for the Dallas Housing Authority for three years, guarding several housing properties, according to its bid packet.

Guard policy

Chief McMillan said most of the Parkland escapes occurred because policy does not require guards to constantly stand watch over inmates charged with misdemeanor offenses. He said the department is rethinking that policy due to the escapes.

However, the cost of 24-hour supervision can be costly, he said, especially when inmates need two or three weeks to recover from surgery.

Other sheriff's departments in Texas say they won't take on the risk of hiring security guards.

Terry Grisham, spokesman for Tarrant County Sheriff's Office, said privatizing hospital guard duty has never been discussed. Whenever inmates are outside the jail, the risk of escape increases, he said.