WILKES-BARRE — Taxpayers might have to foot more of the bill to monitor the citywide camera system due an anticipated reduction in hours given to a private security firm, which means police officers would have to be assigned more frequently to staff the monitoring station.
Trent Miller, president of Legion Security Services, said he expects the company’s contract will be significantly reduced starting next month due to a funding crunch caused by the Wilkes-Barre School District’s decision to nix a three-year, $270,000 contract with with Hawkeye Security Solutions, the nonprofit organization that oversees the camera operation.
That will leave Hawkeye with two options: end around-the-clock monitoring of the cameras, or staff the center with more police officers, Miller said.
Greg Barrouk, vice president of Hawkeye’s board, said Hawkeye remains committed to providing continuous monitoring. The loss of the school district contract reduced the monitoring budget from $15,000 to about $7,500 a month, so it will have no choice but to reduce Legion’s hours, he said.
Currently the command center is staffed by combination of Legion guards and “light-duty” police officers who are recovering from work-related injuries. The goal has been to have one officer and one security guard on at all times. The funding problems mean the Legion guards will be removed from duty whenever a police officer is present, Barrouk said.
“We are gong to have to stagger Legion around our light-duty police officers,” he said.
That also means the funding burden will shift from Hawkeye, which pays Legion through revenues it gets from the Wilkes-Barre Parking Authority and, previously, the school district, to the city, which pays officers from its general fund, Miller said.
“As the cost to Hawkeye goes down, the cost to the city goes up,” Miller said.
How big of an impact that would have on city finances is not immediately clear. The city is required to pay light-duty officers, regardless of whether they’re monitoring the cameras or performing some other function.
The situation becomes stickier if no officers are on light duty. Police would have to decide whether to take an officer off the street in order to monitor the cameras if Hawkeye is not able to fund Legion guards.
Under a settlement of a unfair labor practice grievance, the city is obligated to reserve two light-duty spots for officers to monitor the cameras whenever scheduling permits for that. There are often times when no officers are present, Miller said.
Barrouk said Hawkeye officials plan to speak with the city and Legion officials about the situation to determine how best to structure coverage.
Drew McLaughlin, administrative coordinator for the city, said city officials are open to discussion.
“We are aware of the impact upon Hawkeye by the decrease in operational funds,” he said. “At this time it is primarily a Hawkeye issue; however, the city remains committed to ensuring the operational effectiveness of the camera system is not impaired. We will determine the best course of action in due time.”