BRATTLEBORO — Securitas USA will be providing security to local courthouses after an agreement could not be struck with the Windham County Sheriff's Office.
A 22-month contract with the private security firm was locked in at $618,255. It will cover courthouses in Brattleboro and Newfane, and one in Burlington. Security at the two Windham County courthouses will cost $23,027 per month and $5,075 in Chittenden County. Also, there's an option to extend the contract by 12 months.
"Performance review is continuous and there is a 30-day termination notice agreement included," said Matt Riven, finance and administration chief at the Vermont Court Administrator's Office. "The proposal was offered to six security firms."
Talks were had with all six groups, he said, but Securitas was the only firm to submit a formal bid. The Judicial Branch has kept contingency plans in place for several years in case of a circumstance such as the one seen playing out now.
Sheriff Keith Clark previously told the Reformer that a 10 to 12 percent increase would have been needed in order to break even on the courthouse security detail. He said he had only been offered an increase of 3 percent and had voiced concern about the issue for a couple of years.
The transition to Securitas, Riven said, was driven entirely by the sheriff's decision to not renew the contract. A private security firm is being replaced in Burlington at the civil and probate division courthouse at 175 Main St. in an effort to consolidate and work with one group rather than two.
"In both counties, the amount is actually slightly higher than what was offered to the incumbents," Riven said, explaining that security staffing coverage was slightly increased in Windham County. "The Securitas contract is approximately 6 percent more than the offer to the Windham Sheriff. The Windham Sheriff had requested an approximately 35 percent increase which the Judicial Branch could not accept in these austere times in state government."
The contract with Securitas includes an armed presence at each courthouse, Riven said. The "designated court security officers" will not have the authority to arrest people but they can detain them during court proceedings when a court order calls for it and a transport sheriff is not present.
The officers' roles will involve a "perimeter screening post," courtroom duty and a "roving patrol," said Riven. They will have no law enforcement certification.
"I'm not aware as to whether Securitas provides security in courthouses elsewhere in the country," said Riven. "They are among the largest security firms worldwide, so I imagine they have experience in a wide variety of settings."
Vermont Judiciary Security Manager Bill Gerke will be coordinating the transition with Windham County court managers.
"The protection and safety of our Vermont judicial system is a priority of mine and the Supreme Court. Judges, staff, stakeholders, litigants and the general public must feel safe within the courthouses where they have unimpeded access to justice," Patricia Gabel, state court administrator for the Vermont Judicial Branch, said in the press release issued Tuesday. "We appreciate the cooperation of the Windham County Sheriff in this transition, including their agreement to extend services until August 31. We expect to work successfully with the Sheriff's Office as well as other court users to make this transition as smooth as possible."
Clark was unavailable on Wednesday for comment.
Brattleboro Police Chief Mike Fitzgerald had not yet heard of the contract.
"I'm sure we'll have a meeting with the court," he said. "But nothing's been scheduled, nothing's been said. I'm sure it's just a matter of time. There's some time."
Asked whether he had any concerns about a private security firm taking over the job, Fitzgerald said, "No. Absolutely not.
"We will respond anywhere in town that we need to," he said. "I'm sure we'll talk with the security company and people in charge of the court so any issues will be ironed out. I have no concerns whatsoever."
According to Securitas' 2015 annual report, about 330,000 are employed by the company and work in 53 countries. Securitas USA is a subsidiary of Securitas AB, which is based in Sweden. Securitas was hired at nuclear plant Vermont Yankee in Vernon, which is currently being decommissioned.
Contact Chris Mays at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.