Editor's note: The commissioners unanimously approved the plan on Wednesday.
The Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office plans to hire a private company to provide security at the courthouse and two other county buildings to address a shortage of deputies.
The office has a vacancy rate of more than 25%, Chief Deputy Chris Riggs said during Tuesday’s county commissioners work session.
Riggs said the office has had to reassign deputies from other units to provide courtroom security.
“We've also had to utilize supervisor administrators to occasionally assist with court security duties,” Riggs said. “These assignments have markedly affected our ability to adequately perform our other required responsibilities.”
Riggs said the office is trying to hire deputies. Once someone is hired, it takes more than six months before they can begin working because they must undergo county and state training.
The proposal, which is expected to be approved at Wednesday’s meeting, is largely similar to what the sheriff’s office proposed last month.
However, instead of lasting one year as initially discussed, the contract with York-based Schaad Detective Agency will run for 90 days. The commissioners wanted a shorter contract period.
The county’s contract with the union representing the sheriff’s office allows for replacement workers to be used for up to 90 days, according to county solicitor Jackie Pfursich. She said the county contacted the union several times but didn’t hear back regarding the revamped proposal. Last month, when the proposed contract was for a year, the county said the union was in agreement with it.
A message left for Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 1310 was not immediately returned on Tuesday.
Under the proposal, Schaad would be paid about $56 an hour for armed “level 2” guards and about $38 an hour for unarmed “level 1” guards. Schaad, in turn, would pay level 2 guards $25 per hour and $20 for the level 1 guards.
The guards would provide security at the courthouse, the adult probation and parole office on East King Street and at the County Government Center. Guards would work alongside sheriff deputies. The idea would be to use the armed Schaad guards in lower-risk courtrooms, such as family court, Riggs told the commissioners last month.
Money would come out of the sheriff’s budget for personnel.
When the proposal was brought up last month, Commissioner Josh Parsons expressed concern over a current court policy in which sheriff’s deputies serve warrants for the county’s 19 district judges. In the past, constables served these warrants. But in 2016, to deal with a backlog and to save money, sheriff deputies took over the task. Some constables still are used to a limited extent.
Parsons reiterated his concern Tuesday, saying using deputies to serve district judge warrants takes away from the deputies’ mission of providing courthouse security. Riggs said deputies are not serving district judge warrants.
Ray D’Agostino, chairman of the board of commissioners, said he’s been in touch with President Judge David Ashworth, Sheriff Chris Leppler and constables regarding how warrants are served and hopes to meet to discuss the practice within the next few weeks.
Ashworth, in an email, said, “Many ideas/opinions are being explored to address the very serious staffing issues in the sheriff's office and that is just one of the issues that has been and will be discussed further.”