Target 11 investigates State Capitol security

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HARRISBURG, Pa. —

Taxpayers are footing the bill for three separate security forces to keep the State Capitol safe.

When Channel 11 discovered that millions is being spent for three departments to do essentially the same thing, Target 11 investigator Rick Earle got on the case.

Earle traveled to Harrisburg to ask the question -- Is this why we’re broke?

Both the House and Senate each have their own security force and then there are the Capitol Police.  Three separate forces all under one roof.  Some lawmakers actually argue that it saves taxpayers money in the long run, but critics say it’s duplication of services and a waste of tax dollars.

State Capitol Police patrol the Capitol building and guard the entrances checking each visitor before they are allowed to walk into the Capitol.

Unlike Capitol Police, the House and Senate security forces don’t have arrest powers and they don’t carry weapons.

“It's really a symptom of what's wrong in Harrisburg -- overkill,” said Eric Epstein of the government watchdog group Rock the Capital. 

Capitol Police have 92 officers and also patrol state office buildings in Harrisburg, Philadelphia and Scranton at a cost of more than $10 million.  In addition to the officers, they also have bomb-sniffing dog unit.

The House has 25 security guards who basically serve similar duties as a mall security guard.  The House would not give us a final costs breakdown, but based on documents they provided, Target 11 estimated the cost at approximately $1.5 million.

The senate has 15 security guards that cost taxpayers approximately $900,000 per year. 

Both the House and Senate security forces are responsible for guarding their respective offices and each chamber.

"$12.5 million and 150 police officers… if you were to project that on to the city of Pittsburgh you would need 60,000 police officers.  It's about one police officer for every seven or eight people in the capitol on a normal day,” said Tim Potts of the government watchdog group The Majority Party Pa. 

Target 11 crunched the numbers and discovered that there are actually more security officers in the State Capitol complex than there are police officers in the western Pennsylvania cities of Butler, Greensburg and Indiana combined.  Those three departments have a total of 71 officers.  

Earle also discovered that in Ohio, one agency, the Ohio State Highway patrol, guards the State Capitol and surrounding state office buildings.   The United States’ Capitol even has just one agency overseeing security.

Earle asked a spokesperson for the state agency that oversees Capitol Police if this is a duplication of services.

“I can’t necessarily say that because when you look at the manpower, could Capitol Police do the job?  Yes.  With the current resources?  No,” replied Department of General Services spokesman Troy Thompson. 

Earle wanted to talk to the people in charge of both the House and Senate security forces, so he traveled to Harrisburg to the State Capitol. 

The chief clerks for both the House and Senate would not talk to Channel 11 on camera, but off camera they both defended the security forces and claim they provide an important function.

They said security guards maintain order in the chambers and patrol the offices in both the House and Senate, making sure that the offices are safe and secure for the members.

State Representative Daryl Metcalfe of Cranberry contends that the security forces actually save taxpayers money because their salaries aren’t as high as Capitol Police.  He says the Capitol Police receive much more training. 

“If we would use the capitol police for both entities, both chambers, our costs would go up. So I think using a security force is all we need," said Metcalfe.

But critics contend that there’s really no need for the security forces.  They believe that a few additional Capitol police officers could do their job.  Some government watchdog groups claim there may actually be another reason that lawmakers want their own separate security forces.

“A lot of what's going on here has nothing to do with own personal security but to shield them from public scrutiny,” said Epstein.

Capitol police used to guard the state office building in Pittsburgh, but when that building was shut down and sold, those guards were transferred to Harrisburg.