Bid the job: Make Homewood safer -- after seeking proposals

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Pittsburgh Councilman Ricky Burgess is correct when he says that his district needs the latest technology to help reduce violence and improve safety.

Council's District 9 includes Homewood, Larimer, Lincoln-Lemington and Garfield, some of the more troubled neighborhoods in the city. The district desperately needs more crime-prevention techniques, and Mr. Burgess' proposal for a gunshot detection and surveillance camera system can only help. In addition, it may be necessary to bump up the number of police officers on duty in that part of the city.

Unfortunately, Mr. Burgess is wrong when he says the city doesn't need to solicit competitive bids for this lucrative government contract.

The $1.15 million project as proposed would sidestep the requirement for bids and, instead, would extend a four-year contract the city already holds with Avrio RMS. The latest work would include installation of 60 high-definition, pan-tilt-zoom cameras and 54 gunshot detectors in and around Homewood. The devices would be installed by two firms, Avrio and ShotSpotter.

But it is too much of a stretch to consider the job to be an extension of a 2009 contract the city signed with Avrio. That contract was for installation of several dozen cameras across the city, with a focus on bridges and waterways. It was funded with state dollars and a grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to protect inland ports.

Doing what Mr. Burgess proposes might get the devices in place more quickly, but it would subvert the competitive bid requirement. There are already too many local examples of government contracting abuses -- scandals involving the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and the city's own police bureau are among the most recent.

City council will be courting trouble if its skirts the rules, too. Council members should approve Mr. Burgess' plans for safety devices in his district, but they should follow the rules on competitive bidding to get the job done.

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