- The Washington Times - Friday, February 6, 2004

The D.C. Board of Education will review its multimillion-dollar contract with a company that posts unarmed security guards in city schools. The action is prompted by the shooting death of a 17-year-old football star inside Ballou High School this week.

“The board will review whether the contract is working,” said school board member Tommy Wells. “I do want to look at what could have been prevented, and I want to look into the whole contract.”

Mr. Wells also said the school board is reviewing whether the Southeast school’s metal detectors were working properly on Monday, when James Richardson, 17, was fatally shot in a hallway at Ballou.

Police believe the gun used to kill James was brought into the school through one of the more than 120 doors that lead in and out of the building. Only two doors have metal detectors.

Police say Ballou student Thomas Boykin, 18, shot James with a gun that was smuggled past security guards. The two had been fighting since last fall in a dispute between groups of Ballou students from the Barry Farms and Condon Terrace neighborhoods in Southeast.

According to city documents obtained this week through an open records request, Watkins Security Agency of D.C. Inc. provides unarmed guards at D.C. schools under a three-year, $45.6 million contract that runs through 2006.

Richard A. Hamilton Sr., a former Metropolitan Police detective, is president and chief executive officer of Watkins Security Agency of D.C. Inc., a subsidiary of the Watkins Group — a conglomerate of transportation, communication, fuel and security firms based in Baltimore.

Mr. Hamilton is chairman of the Marshall Heights Community Development Corp. and was appointed by the D.C. Council in 1998 to a committee to select individuals to serve on the Board of Trustees for the University of the District of Columbia.

Repeated phone calls to the firm were not returned.

A funeral for James Richardson will be held today at Paramount Baptist Church at 3924 Fourth St. SE.

Monday’s shooting has sparked calls for a security overhaul in the 65,000-student school system from parents, students, community activists and city officials.

In his State of the District Address on Thursday, Mayor Anthony A. Williams said he has directed Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey to devise within 10 days a Ballou security plan “to ensure that students never again lose a classmate to violence.”

In addition, D.C. Council member Kevin P. Chavous is expected to introduce emergency legislation next week to give the police department security oversight in city schools.

“We do not think the current arrangement is adequate,” said Eric Rogers, chief of staff for Mr. Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat.

“We’ve got to get more serious help,” said school board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz.

Mr. Wells said concerns about private security in city schools typically center on personnel. “It’s not just Watkins,” he said. “There have always been issues about personnel as far as security.”

“These are lightly trained and, frankly, fairly low-skilled workers,” Mr. Wells said. “I don’t expect them to have the expertise to manage children. I do expect them to find out who belongs there or who doesn’t, and to tell us when equipment isn’t working.”

But the school board member said officials should think twice before planning to eliminate the school system’s private security force.

“You can’t replace an entire security force,” Mr. Wells said. “We had about 20 guards at Ballou, and I don’t think you can replace them all with police officers. And I doubt the mayor is going to tell us that he’ll pay for the rest of the contract [with Watkins].”

City schools officials faced questions about security last year after a 16-year-old student was shot and wounded inside Cardozo High School in April.

“Until such time as we can get city leaders to come together and discuss the issue of locking doors, we cannot ensure that an incident like this might never happen again,” schools security director Theodore Tuckson said at the time.

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