Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Bringing Bus-Style Security to the Court House?

A large portion of the 76 working families that Scott Walker is sending to the unemployment line are experienced courthouse security personnel. Walker couldn't privatize that important work in his budget so he apparently has opted for a back door approach. He tries to privatize services, gets shot down, then develops a sabotage-based budget. When it inevitably explodes, he claims the emergency rule and lays off and/or privatizes the jobs that he wanted to in the first place. At least that seems to be the drill that I have observed over Walker's time in office. This time Walker plans on replacing the experienced workers with new people from Wackenhut. It will be interesting to learn more about the bidding process (assuming that there was one) for choosing this firm, because they have not had the best relationship with Milwaukee County in the last number of years.

For a number of years Wackenhut has had a contract with Milwaukee County to provide security services for its transit system. When assaults on buses started generating a ton of bad publicity, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke began publicly questioning the services that Wackenhut was providing. In 2007 Sheriff Clarke was so concerned about Wackenhut's level of service that he sent a letter to Scott Walker asking for an audit of the county's $1 million-a-year contract. In the letter Clarke stated that his office had to use its own personnel to address security problems on the buses. The hope was for Clarke to turn this extra security back over to Wackenhut after some order was restored but Clarke commented:

After nearly two years, we have not been able to turn this over to Wackenhut, not because we haven't established an acceptable amount of order, but because we fear that we will have to come back due to Wackenhut's mismanagement.

The story that reported on Sheriff Clarke's letter interestingly notes that Walker "could not be reached for comment…"

As reports of violence on Milwaukee County buses appeared to increase, there were no observable acts of leadership by Scott Walker. His lack of action was somewhat surprising given that his political ally, Sheriff David Clarke, had urged him to act on this public safety issue. The incidents were having a real impact on the image of the Milwaukee County Transit System based on the results of an internal MCTS opinion poll. The poll found that 14.6% of residents in 2008 felt that personal security on the buses had become worse. That was much higher than the 3.8% that felt that way in 2007.

Finally after no observable action from Scott Walker, the Milwaukee County Board passed a resolution calling for an audit of Wackenhut's performance in providing security for the MCTS. That internal Milwaukee County audit was completed in early 2009 and seemed to confirm many of Sheriff Clarke's concerns. The main take away from the audit was the fact that the private security force was spending only 3% of their time actually on the buses. According to the report, this was contrary to their original pledge when they first won the contract in 2003. At that time they promised that their security officers would spend closer to 85% of their time on the buses.

Not only did Scott Walker ignore Sheriff Clarke's questions about Wackenhut's level of service, but now he has decided to use them to replace courthouse security veterans? Is it smart to reward a questionable record with an entirely new contract and more responsibility? I know that it might fit Walker's rigid ideology and political goals, but someone should ask if it is smart to bring Wackenhut's bus-style security to the Milwaukee County Courthouse.

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