Security firm defends service to public housing agency poised to cancel contract

Since January, Sentry Force Security has held a contract to patrol properties owned and operated by the Charlottesville Housing and Redevelopment Authority. President Tim Sansone addressed the CHRA Board of Commissioners at their meeting at matters from the public and said there has been an increase in illegal activities and that Sentry Force personnel have been coordinating with the Charlottesville Police Department. 

“I understand there’s been some dialogue or conversations as far as the scope of our services and the contract that we have with CRHA,” Sansone said. “I think everyone would agree or know that the properties that we’re here to patrol and provide services with are definitely in need of some type of security service or coverage which is what we are providing.” 

Sansone said service was reduced in February due to the cost, and he told the CRHA Board that his company would put together a proposal for a lowered price.

The topic came up during a public hearing on the budget for fiscal year 2022. The CRHA fiscal year begins on April 1. Sales said revenue from tenants is expected to be down by $150,000 despite leasing more units. He also said the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is requiring CRHA to set aside $500,000 in reserve in order to one day leave “troubled” status.  (draft budget)

Much of the discussion, though, dealt with the security issue. 

Sales said the CHRA had signed a $240,000 contract under a line item called “Total Protective Services” but that is now expected to not carry on into the next year. Sales became CRHA director last August. 

“Solicitation was already out when I got here,” Sales said. “We moved forward with it. After going through numbers, looking at what we’re projected to lose in revenue and the operating fund not catching up for a year, because it’s a year behind…. We really can’t afford this service.”

Sales said the bill from Sentry Force Security for January was $43,000. 

“I don’t know any housing authority that can afford that,” Sales said. “That’s about a half million a year. That would by far be the largest contract we have.” 

Sales said there are other ways to address security issues, such as hiring someone to check ids before people enter Crescent Halls, for instance. 

At the public comment period, Brandon Collins of the Public Housing Association of Residents said he supported the change. 

“The current security company and the previous security company really weren’t offering anything, any kind of improvements to resident safety and the housing authority has been very responsive to resident direction on this matter,” Collins said. 

Collins said community-based initiatives such as the recently formed B.U.C.K. Squad would be a better use of resources to address safety. 

Sansone spoke again during the public hearing for the budget. He said security officers have logged 147 incidents and 23 of those have been violent crime, drug related, or property damage. He said he understood the budget issues. 

“I would hope that we could all agree that security is definitely a need at these properties,” Sansone said. “In January when we are at full staffing level we were patrolling concurrently with [Charlottesville Police Department].” 

Sansone said he warned that without security, the number of violent incidents would continue as the weather gets warm. That’s the same message that the head of the B.U.C.K. Squad told Council earlier this month. 

Sansone said that could leave the CRHA with liability issues if someone they hire to run the door at Crescent Halls is injured in an incident. The CRHA’s attorney, David Oberg, later disputed that notion and said they’d be covered by worker’s compensation. 

Sansone offered a lower rate for Sentry Force’s services albeit with lower service. 

“I’d just strongly discourage the Board from considering removing all security presence as a whole, especially with the summer months coming up.

Sales said the new proposal was for $180,000 and he thought that the authority could only afford about $9,000 a month. Sansone continued his pitch. 

“It’s not going be the same exact same service level as having what we had done in January but it would be able to provide a deterrent and a presence because if people start seeing that there is no security at all at these properties, then the word is going to get out and you’re going to see a lot more activity happening at these properties, especially with the summer months coming up.” 

There were murders at South First Street on November 5 and December 27 of last year, as well as numerous reports of shots fired. 

Mayor Nikuyah Walker, who sits on the CHRA Board, acknowledged the summer months could lead to an uptick in violence and she wants to find a solution to prevent future issues. 

“It is something that we need to figure out but I think that we need to work with the families that live there with CRHA, with the Safety Committee,” Walker said. “It isn’t something I don’t think we can delay.”

Walker said Council is considering proposals to fund both Peace in the Street and B.U.C.K. Squad.  

“But there are also some things that they can’t do that we wouldn’t want them to do just for safety reasons,” Walker said. 

The CRHA will vote on the budget at a meeting on March 30. 

Kathleen Glenn-Matthews, the operations director for CRHA, gave an update on redevelopment efforts. Groundbreaking for the first phase of South First Street’s redevelopment was held on March 7. 

“And we are in the planning process as we really closed on Crescent Halls to go ahead and get  a similar event in place there and we hope to have some announcement soon once I talk to the Crescent Halls residents association about times that will for them,” Glenn-Matthews said.  


Before you go: The time to write and research of this article is covered by paid subscribers to Charlottesville Community Engagement. In fact, this particular installment comes from the March 25, 2021 edition of the program. To ensure this research can be sustained, please consider becoming a paid subscriber or contributing monthly through Patreon.

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