Private security guards will soon have an unusual assignment -- guarding police officers and civilians at the city Police Department's headquarters at 601 E. Fayette St.
And while the security guards are guarding police headquarters, some police officers will be earning overtime pay while moonlighting as guards at other municipal buildings.
The security guards will take their posts at headquarters July 1. They will replace the building's security detail, which is now made up of regular police officers who are on limited duty because of illnesses or injuries.
Commissioner Edward V. Woods said the switch to private guards was recommended by a consultant firm that recently reassessed the department's resources and manpower for a planned move toward community-based policing.
Under community-based policing, officers will be trained to work closely with neighborhood groups to solve problems and reduce calls for police assistance.
"This has been a waste of resources," Commissioner Woods said of the use of police officers to guard headquarters, adding that the change would "help free up $34,000-a-year-officers who are not limited to what they can do to work on foot patrol or other assignments."
No decision has been made on whether the security guards should be armed. Security America Services Inc., a company LTC that is currently under contract with the city, will provide the guards for headquarters, police officials said.
Commissioner Woods said the private security company is expected to provide seven guards to watch key points in the building including the front corridor and the garage entrance.
While the new security is expected to cost about $300,000 annually, it will still result in a savings to the department, Commissioner Woods said.
The security guards will earn less money and receive fewer benefits than regular officers, he explained.
Currently, 22 officers and two sergeants are on the security detail and all but one officer is on limited duty.
Meanwhile, some police officers said they were unhappy about the prospect of being guarded by "rent-a-cops."
They also said the change is a cleverly concealed effort to get rid of police officers who cannot work on the streets because of sickness or injuries.
The officers on the security detail said they were being "kept in the dark" about the change and do not know when or where they will be transferred.
"I serve at the pleasure of the police commissioner," one officer said. "But you would think they could have handled this in a more professional manner."
Police officials said the limited duty officers will be re-evaluated to determine what assignments they can handle and they will be transferred into those slots by July 1.
The officers also question the logic of the change because some officers earn overtime pay guarding other municipal buildings.
Police officials said a three-member committee that includes the commissioner meets periodically to discuss security in other city-owned buildings.
Currently, there are no plans to change the policy that allows officers to earn overtime guarding other cities buildings and the new stadium at Camden Yards.
Each year, about 600 to 700 officers earn overtime for guard duty at sites other than headquarters.