The Public Eye

Sacramento switches security firms after complaints of guards who didn’t show up

For six years, the city of Sacramento trusted guards from National Security Industries & Services to keep watch over City Hall, the Crocker Art Museum and many other public properties. But a city investigation – prompted by complaints made by a labor union – found that National guards didn’t show up for jobs when they were scheduled to, didn’t operate the right equipment and were not properly trained in CPR and first aid, according to a city staff report filed in November.

The city severed its ties with National last month. Officials turned to the next lowest, qualified bidder, Securitas Security Services USA, a company it paid to guard city facilities from 1988 to 2008. However, court documents show that the city once accused Securitas of violations similar in nature to those now alleged against National.

The city filed a lawsuit against Securitas in 2008 alleging that guards from the company failed “to provide security services,” leading to “trespass, damage to and theft of” city property.

The damage caused by that alleged negligence was valued at more than $50,000, according to the lawsuit. The suit was later settled, with Securitas agreeing to pay an undisclosed amount of more than $10,000.

City finance director Leyne Milstein said Thursday that the lawsuit stemmed from the vandalism of a parking pay station and that “it was a one-time thing.”

“We have a lot of confidence in (Securitas’) abilities,” Milstein said. “They were a responsive bidder (for the most recent contract), they are responsible and if there is a contractual issue, which we don’t anticipate, it will be followed up upon immediately.”

A Securitas spokeswoman said, “the people of the city of Sacramento should not have any concern for the protection of the many important buildings and sites covered by this contract.”

“On the contrary, the people can feel secure that an organization that provides security nationwide for many high-profile locations, including critical infrastructure, health care and energy sites, has been retained to protect the assets of the city of Sacramento,” said company spokeswoman Lynne Glovka.

National took over the city’s private security services from Securitas in 2008. The City Council was on the verge of extending its contract with National in October when organizers with the Service Employees International Union asked city officials to look into allegations that the company had mistreated its employees.

The SEIU had surveyed security workers throughout the region and alleged that National intimidated officers to prevent them from joining a union, offered expensive health care benefits and didn’t pay its officers on time, according to a letter the union sent city officials.

Milstein said the city conducted its own independent investigation. That probe determined that National “is not a responsible bidder” for the security work, according to a city staff report. The city’s investigation did not examine wage and benefit concerns raised by the SEIU, Milstein said.

To avoid leaving city facilities unguarded, the city crafted a 90-day, nonunion contract with Securitas. That contract – worth $694,264 – was approved by the City Council on Nov. 18, the day the former contract with National expired.

National protested and was initially scheduled to have its case heard in front of an administrative law judge this week. National asked last week that the hearing be delayed because, its president said, it only received the city’s evidence of misdeeds a few days before the hearing. The hearing is now tentatively scheduled for next month.

Should the judge uphold the city’s findings that National was not a responsible bidder for the city contract, city officials will likely recommend a long-term contract with Securitas.

Michael Gerami, president of National, said the allegations against his company are “nitpicking” and said his employees are treated well.

The city said National guards did not show up to guard the Crocker Art Museum and the Historic City Cemetery. Gerami said he has not seen evidence that his guard did not show up at the Crocker and said a scheduling mix-up led to an officer missing one shift at the cemetery.

Gerami acknowledged his guards did not have CPR certifications. “At the same time,” he said, “do you want a security officer giving you CPR? In eight years we never had a situation where we had to give CPR.”

As for the allegation that his officers didn’t carry the right equipment, Gerami said one of his employees who guarded the Sacramento Convention Center was given a smartphone, but that he did not know how to use it and was unable to answer a phone call.

“If we have the deficiencies that (the city) says, why didn’t they complain before this?” Gerami said. “Why didn’t they send us an email that said, ‘Your guard is not showing up to work,’ or ‘We have a problem.’?”

National’s bid for a new five-year contract with the city was $12.4 million, according to a city staff report. Securitas filed the next lowest, qualified bid at $14.3 million.

Milstein said National appears to not be responsible. She said she could not provide more details of the city’s investigation into the company, citing the pending legal hearing.

“If they’re not responsible, we should change vendors,” she said.

Call The Bee’s Ryan Lillis, (916) 321-1085. Read his City Beat blog at www.sacbee.com/city-beat.

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