Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The Metropolitan Police Department has licensed private security officers in the D.C. public school system despite past arrests on charges of assault, cocaine possession and passing counterfeit money, according to a draft report by the D.C. inspector general.

“There are contracted security personnel working in [public schools] who may pose a risk to the secure environment of students and staff,” the draft document states.

“There is no assurance that all contracted school security personnel possess the requisite skills to ensure the safety and security of … students and faculty,” according to the report, which has not yet been finalized.

The Washington Times has obtained a copy of the draft.

The Inspector General’s Office refused to comment on the audit yesterday, saying its policy does not permit officials to discuss draft reports.

“When we issue a draft, it is only for the limited purpose for the recipients to respond to us, and we cannot comment on the report until responses are received and the final report is issued,” interim Inspector General Austin A. Andersen said.

Lt. Jon Shelton, who heads the police department’s security-officer management branch, said yesterday that the recent transfer of oversight of the security contract from schools to police has resulted in more scrutiny of officers hired to work in the schools.

“Nobody goes into the school unless I know they’re going into the schools,” he said.

D.C. school officials yesterday referred all questions to the police department.

Because it is a draft report, the audit contains conclusions that could change based on responses from the D.C. public school system and the Metropolitan Police Department.

But preliminary findings have exposed a breakdown in communications among police and school and security company officials.

According to the report, the inspector general researched the backgrounds of 30 security officers randomly selected from among 400 working in the school system for Watkins Security Agency of D.C. Inc. last school year.

Eight of those 30 officers, whose names were not released, had criminal histories, including four who did not make any mention of their arrest records on affidavits and employment documents, the report shows.

One security officer had been arrested four times: twice for distributing counterfeit money, once as a fugitive in connection with a previous arrest and another time for simple assault. That officer was convicted for delivering counterfeit money, a felony, in November 1998.

“Although MPD had access to applicants’ criminal background histories during the pre-employment process, MPD did not share this with [D.C. Public Schools] or the contractor,” the report stated.

The report also faults Watkins, the school system’s previous security contractor, for not following up on character and employment references, performing credit checks or maintaining records of required training and drug tests.

Watkins officials defended the company’s performance yesterday. The company said it performed internal screening and rejected many applicants, but relied heavily on the police department’s decision to issue a security officer’s license.

“Watkins did what they were supposed to do, which is hire people who were vetted, approved and licensed by MPD,” said company spokeswoman Donna Henry. “MPD’s job is to say this is a person who should or should not be watching our kids, and they have fallen short of that.”

Lt. Shelton said that under city rules, a criminal background has not always automatically disqualified security officers from getting licenses.

For example, special police officers have been permitted to receive licenses as long as they have not been convicted of a felony within the past 10 years or a misdemeanor in the past five years, he said.

Lt. Shelton said some officers whose applications were rejected have been able to overturn the decision through an appeals process.

Assistant Police Chief Gerald Wilson said yesterday that he would not comment on specific findings of the audit until the final report is issued. In general, he said, security officers in the schools are “highly scrutinized.”

He said police excluded more than a dozen private security officers working in the schools because they failed a written test or had criminal histories that would disqualify them under stricter regulations.

Concern over the background of security officers surfaced earlier this week after an armed guard for Hawk One Security Inc., the school system’s new security contractor, was arrested for armed robbery on Saturday.

Hawk One, which also provides security for city government, has referred questions to its attorney, who did not return phone messages.

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