- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 15, 2004

A D.C. Council member plans to introduce legislation tomorrow that would authorize the Metropolitan Police Department to take over security in the city’s public schools, including oversight of a $45 million private security contract.

Kevin P. Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat and chairman of the Education, Libraries and Recreation Committee, said he favors a police department takeover of security in the city’s 65,000-student system, even as top D.C. Public Schools officials have expressed concern about the initiative.

“I think we need to take away any functions from the school system that do not involve teaching our children,” Mr. Chavous said.

Interim Superintendent Elfreda Massie disagrees.

“I think there are a number of issues we have to look at,” Miss Massie told Mr. Chavous during a D.C. Council oversight hearing Friday.

“Is that the best use of their time?” she asked, referring to plans to bring police officers into city schools.

Mr. Chavous said he wants the security plan to include cost estimates. “We’ll get the money, but we have to know how it’s going to be spent,” he said.

Concerns about security in city schools heightened earlier this month when junior James Richardson, 17, was fatally shot in a hallway at Ballou High School in Southeast.

Other public school officials said they are reluctant to remove the school district’s private security firm entirely. Watkins Security of D.C. Inc., which posts unarmed guards in city schools, is operated by Richard A. Hamilton Sr., a former detective with the Metropolitan Police Department.

City documents obtained through an open records request reveal that Watkins Security provides unarmed guards at D.C. schools under a three-year, $45.6 million contract that runs through 2006.

In an interview with The Washington Times, Mr. Chavous said the police department, rather than school administrators, should decide how to handle the Watkins Security contract.

“I think the police should have oversight of that,” Mr. Chavous said. “They can best decide whether that’s the right contract or if somebody else needs to be brought in.”

But Theodore Tuckson, schools security director, told Mr. Chavous, “I think the language is going to change from takeover to assistance,” referring to the proposed legislation.

Also tomorrow, Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey is expected to present his plan to overhaul security in the schools to Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who has said he favors the initiative.

The security plan is expected to address a glaring problem that surfaced after the shooting: Ballou has 140 doors that open to the outside. Most are unguarded, and only two have metal detectors.

Police believe the gun used to kill James was smuggled into the school through an unguarded door. Thomas Boykin, 18, a senior at the school, was charged with second-degree murder in the case.

Mr. Tuckson said it’s hard to attract good candidates to work as security guards. Parents and students have complained that some guards are too friendly with the students.

“Unfortunately, in the security and law-enforcement field, recruiting is a very difficult issue,” Mr. Tuckson said.

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