- The Washington Times - Monday, May 17, 2004

D.C. public schools awarded a multimillion-dollar contract last year to Watkins Security, despite a warning from the system’s top security official that the company lacked experience, according to records obtained yesterday.

In a September 2002 memo, Theodore C. Tuckson, deputy director of security for the school system, told the Office of Contracting and Acquisitions that Watkins Security had “limited related experience” and “no major …knowledge of the application of a school security program.”

The performance of the company and its security officers at city public schools have been sharply criticized since the Feb. 2 fatal shooting at Ballou High School in Southeast. The student charged with shooting his classmate reportedly smuggled the gun into the school.

Despite Mr. Tuckson’s memo and offers from four other companies to provide the services for less money, Watkins Security was awarded a three-year contract in July 2003, according to records obtained by The Washington Times.

The memo faulted all of the companies for problems that included lack of experience, high labor costs and incomplete contract proposals.

“There is nothing overwhelming,” Mr. Tuckson wrote about proposals from Watkins, Holiday International Security Inc., Unlimited Security Inc., Homeland Security Corp. and MVM Inc.

“All indicators are that this is nothing more than an opportunity for companies to acquire lucrative compensation” at the expense of D.C. public schools, he wrote.

Mr. Tuckson also suggested that the school system study whether to employ its own security officers instead of hiring a private firm.

The Times first reported last month that the District pays more per student to staff schools with private security guards than several other urban school districts spend per student on their own police forces.

According to the records, Watkins won the three-year contract with a bid of $45.6 million.

MVM Inc. bid $43.8 million; Holiday International bid $43.5 million; Unlimited Security bid $39.3 million and Homeland Security bid $36.8 million, according to the records.

School system officials declined yesterday to offer an explanation for the decision.

According to the Watkins contract proposal, its school security experience included providing two unarmed guards to Baltimore City College in 1998.

Watkins Security also had guards at Northern High School in Baltimore and at SEED Charter School in Southeast, according to its proposal.

The D.C. school security contract requires at least 300 guards in city schools.

The school system has been paying Watkins Security on a month-by-month basis because school officials never sought D.C. Council approval on the contract. City law requires that contracts worth more than $1 million be approved by council.

Richard A. Hamilton, president of Watkins Security of D.C. Inc. and a former Metropolitan Police Department detective, earlier this month defended the company’s performance.

In a letter to The Times, Mr. Hamilton stated that the gun used in the killing of Ballou student James Richardson, 17, was carried through an unmanned, normally locked door that had no alarm.

“Ballou has more than 122 doors, seven of which are manned in compliance with our contract with the school system,” he said. “Students are required to enter through the main entrance and the cafeteria entrance. I do not wish to excuse the fact that a student was killed on our watch, but the public should not have false impressions that Watkins Security officers at Ballou were lackadaisical and irresponsible.”

He also disputed statements that poorly performing guards are reassigned instead of fired. He said 37 percent of the roughly 400 guards the company initially hired to work in city schools have been fired this year because they “did not meet Watkins’ professional standard.”

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