WILKES-BARRE — Four months after a state agency ordered Wilkes-Barre to stop utilizing Legion Security to monitor the citywide camera system, the Hawkeye Security Solutions board renewed the firm’s contract, even though police officers were now stationed inside to watch the cameras.
Hawkeye, the non-profit organization formed to oversee operation of the cameras, voted in April 2011 to suspend Legion’s contract after a hearing examiner with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board (PLRB) ruled the city had committed an unfair labor practice by allowing civilians to monitor the cameras.
The examiner directed the city to immediately remove Legion personnel from the monitoring room and turn over those duties to police officers. The city complied with the order and began placing officers who were on light duty due to injury in the control room.
That decision would seem to negate the need to employ Legion Security, but the Hawkeye board didn’t see it that way. On Aug. 31, 2011, the board renewed a one-year contract that called for Legion to be paid $15 per hour for 24-hour, seven-day-a-week coverage at a cost of $131,400, according to a copy of the agreement.
Legion was permitted to remain, despite the PLRB ruling, because the city reached an agreement with the police union that resolved officers concerns that Legion guards were doing police work, said Councilman Bill Barrett, a former Hawkeye board member.
Frank Sorick, president of the Wilkes-Barre Taxpayers’ Association and critic of the camera system, questioned the logic behind the board’s decision to retain Legion.
“The police officers are getting paid by the city to monitor the cameras. Now Hawkeye hires Legion to mirror the police officers. It seems like a redundancy and waste of taxpayers’ money,” Sorick said. “I couldn’t see any private business that isn’t government or taxpayer funded do anything as ridiculous as this.”
Frank Majikes, president of the Hawkeye Board, did not return a phone message Tuesday seeking comment on the board’s reasoning. Barrett, a former city police chief who sat on the Hawkeye board at the time the contract was renewed, said members felt it was more cost effective to retain Legion.
Barrett said the monitoring room requires at least two people at all times due to the number of cameras. Even though it won the grievance, the police union agreed to allow one Legion employee to remain under certain conditions.
A copy of the amended contract signed in August 2011 shows Legion personnel were permitted to be in the monitoring room, but they are precluded from contacting police or 911 directly to report any incident they see. If the Legion employee sees something, the person is obligated to tell the officer in the room, who would then notify the appropriate units to respond.
“It’s not redundancy. When you have a couple hundred cameras you’re trying to monitor, for one person that’s not possible,” Barrett said. “We thought it was more cost effective than having two police officers there.”
It was not immediately clear Tuesday whether that agreement has saved the city any money. The amendment to the police union contract that resolved the PLRB complaint still requires the city to reserve two monitoring positions for police officers. The agreement does not state whether, in instances when two officers are present, a third position is held open for a Legion employee.
Trent Miller, the president of Legion Security, did not return a phone message Tuesday seeking comment.