N.C. county to rethink building security

Durham County officials put contract with guard services provider on month-to-month basis


July 15--DURHAM -- County officials have put on a month-to-month basis a nearly $1 million contract with a security company that helps watch over 11 buildings, in part because they want to rethink how they organize their safety program.

But the decision also comes after local activists pressed County Commissioners to terminate business with G4S Secure Solutions USA Inc.

Officials will discuss the matter again next month, when County Manager Wendell Davis and his staff brief County Commissioners on the results of a recent "vulnerability assessment."

"I anticipate having a conversation with them about the study, then we will begin the process of thinking through what the new strategy and structure may look like," Davis said.

He added that the August discussion will likely also include hearing from G4S, a British company that took over the former Wackenhut Corp.

G4S now provides daytime and early-evening security at 11 county buildings.

They include all of the county's libraries, the county office building at 200 E. Main St., the Health and Human Services Building, the Criminal Justice Resource Center and the Agricultural Building on Foster Street, said Motiryo Keambiroiro, the county's general services director.

The Agriculture Building is covered in part because it also houses an anti-gang program, Deputy County Manager Marqueta Welton told commissioners in June.

The county's contract with G4S is costing it about $973,000 a year, Keambiroiro said.

It became an issue for commissioners last month when activists from Jewish Voice for Peace and other groups attended a series of public hearings on the budget to urge officials to stop doing business with the firm.

Echoing the claims of an international divestment campaign, they complained the firm is complicit in human-rights abuse by Israel against Palestinians because it helps run Israeli prisons in that country and on the West Bank.

G4S presents the "county with another civil rights issue that fortunately is much easier to resolve" than others local officials have confronted, said Tom Stern, one of the opponents of the contract.

The broader security issue, however, is more on Davis' mind.

His fiscal 2014-15 budget, as approved by the commissioners, included money to cover the estimated $95,782 cost for the salary and benefits needed to hire a full-time, in-house manager to coordinate security efforts.

The upcoming briefing will fill commissioners in on "what some of the [recent vulnerability] assessment laid out or suggested," Davis said, adding that he'd like the discussion to occur in a closed-door meeting because "you obviously don't want to tell people who have ill will what your vulnerabilities are."

North Carolina's Open Meetings Law does allow local governments to hold closed-door discussions on security issues, though it specifies that that's only "as it relates to existing or potential terrorist activity."

Once the security manager is hired, Davis anticipates additional meetings with commissioners and Sheriff Mike Andrews' staff to create "a new strategy in general for how we do security in county government."

Copyright 2014 - The Herald-Sun, Durham, N.C.