G4S, the world's largest security company, is rapidly expanding in Florida, landing millions of dollars in contracts from sheriffs’ offices that often aren't put out for bid.
While Florida sheriffs have discretion in awarding contracts, some vendors say it's putting smaller security companies out of business and wasting your tax dollars.
“The person that's taking the hit that doesn't even know it is the taxpayer,” said a Florida security company manager who asked not to be named.
“They have the market kind of cornered, G4S does,” said Robert Downs, who owns U.S. Prisoner Transport, which has contracts with law enforcement departments all over the country.
G4S is rapidly expanding in Florida, doing jobs once performed by sheriffs’ deputies in an effort to save money.
“It's in the millions. I don't think there's any doubt about that,” Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said.
G4S has millions of dollars in active contracts with sheriffs’ offices in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Polk and Sarasota counties.
But this security company manager, who asked not to be identified, claims G4S isn't always the cheapest.
“The small mom and pop companies, it doesn't give us a chance,” said the security company manager.
He believes the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office should have notified other companies about a $3.5 Million annual contract awarded to G4S last year.
“Then every company would have been given a fair opportunity to be able to bid on it,” said the manager.
“That would increase us by about 60 percent,” said Downs, who described it as a huge contract.
He believes his company could have performed the jobs in the contract at a lower price.
“Our overhead is not gonna be as high as them,” said Downs.
“I want them to grow their companies and have great businesses, but not everybody can have a piece of everything,” said Gualtieri.
Gualtieri signed the latest G4S contract, which was put out to bid only once in 2006.
Since then, it has been amended nine times and grown six fold.
“We're under no obligation and no legal obligation to put everything out to bid,” said Gualtieri.
Tampa attorney George Spofford, who specializes in government contracts, said Florida has a bid law meant to drive down prices.
But it doesn't always apply when it comes to public safety services.
“If you don't advertise it and seek bids from qualified applicants, then you don't have competition,” said Spofford.
“We would have put in a reasonable bid that gives a reasonable rate for a reasonable job,” said the security company manager. “It would have been a lot lower.”
Records reviewed by the I-Team show Pinellas County pays G4S more than other agencies for similar services.
The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office pays $21.58 an hour for unarmed guards, while the Polk County Sheriff’s Office – which put the contract out for bid – pays $14.37.
“It's not necessarily a like to like comparison. An officer is not an officer, is not an officer. The requirements are different,” said Gualtieri.
“Ultimately the taxpayers are the ones that are paying all this,” said Downs.
Of the six sheriffs’ offices we looked at, only Polk County sought bids for the millions of dollars in current contracts awarded to G4S.
We reached out to the Florida Sheriff's Association, which said the organization recommends that bids be used whenever feasible.
G4S in a statement sent to the I-Team said, “When any client, especially a law enforcement agency, opts to expand our services rather than put a job out to bid, we take that as a vote of confidence in our security officers, the quality of services we provide and the value we deliver."