By Conrad Wilson, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Cloud, Minn. – A plan to use a private security contractor to police a central Minnesota town is on hold.
Last month the city of Foley approved a contract with General Security Services Corporation to police city streets. The approval came after the city and the Benton County Sheriff could not reach a deal for the county to continue providing patrols.
The private security company was supposed to start patrolling on Jan. 1t. But a series of letters between the Peace Officers Standards Training Board and General Security Services Corporation, shows the private security company did not sign the contract with the city.
The POST Board, the state agency that licenses law enforcement officers in the state, wanted to ensure GSSC personnel would not act in the same capacity as certified peace officers, such as police, sheriffs and State Patrol.
Neil Melton, executive director of the POST Board, said his agency reviewed the copy of the contract between GSSC and the city of Foley.
“We took the contract and we laid it side-by-side with state statutes and there were some issues that came up that caused us some concern,” Melton said. “The roles and responsibilities of the security officers versus those roles and responsibilities reserved … licensed peace officers.”
The POST Board came up with 54 questions they wanted answered, including: How would GSSC engage in crowd control? Or will the company allow its employees to carry firearms while on duty for the city?
Melton says his agency has no jurisdiction over a private company, but was ensuring the company did not eclipse the duties of law enforcement.
“Was it going to be a duty of unauthorized practice?” Melton said. “Were these people going to be (performing) duties reserved for peace officers?”
GSSC declined a Dec. 29 meeting to discuss the matter with the POST Board, Melton said.
General Security Services Corp. president Bill Leoni declined to comment.
A letter dated Dec. 29, 2011 from the POST Board to GSSC quotes the company as saying, “GSSC has not actually entered into a contract with the City of Foley, nor does GSSC currently intend to enter into a contract to perform such services with the City of Foley unless and until the concerns raised by the [POST Complaint] Committee have been resolved satisfactorily.”
Foley Mayor Gary Gruba says the city did its legal research and believes the private security company is still the city’s best option, given the city’s tight budget.
He blames Attorney General Lori Swanson for getting involved. In October, Swanson sent letters to the Benton County Sheriff’s office and Foley officials raising legal questions about turning over patrol duties to a private contractor and offering to mediate between the two organizations.
“It’s a political move on the AG’s part in my opinion; and a very poor move when you want to do that at the last minute,” he says. “I believe they did it because they knew it was going to work well within the city of Foley. They knew it would be a great thing for the community, not only in patrol but in saving money, and when that happens and it works here, it’s going to work everywhere else and they were afraid of that.”
Foley researched the idea of contracting a private security firm to take over the job of the Benton County Sheriff’s Department about six months ago. According to the city, the contract with GSSC would have saved the city about $70,000, from what it paid in 2011 for law enforcement services.
The security company’s five officers planned to provide patrols around the clock, but lacking the same abilities as law enforcement officers, such as ticketing drivers for speeding or other moving violations. Instead, the private security contractors would have enforced city ordinances like parking tickets and noise complaints.
Benton County Sheriff’s Department would have still responded to 911 calls, the city of Foley said.
The city is now considering options, Gruba said, but aside from emergencies, is currently without a law enforcement agency.