City to consult locals in security row, suspends G4S
The city of Luxembourg will hear residents before deciding whether to renew a contract for private security firm G4S to patrol the streets around the central station, an alderman said on Tuesday, amidst long-standing complaints from locals about drug dealing and prostitution in the area.
The city council would allow the current contract to expire on 15 November and await the outcome of a citizens' meeting planned for later this year before deciding whether to still deploy G4S, alderman Serge Wilmes of the Christian Democrat CSV told public radio 100,7 in an interview.
"The council has decided we should wait for now, because we want a big public gathering at the Gare, with ministers involved, so we can hear what people living there have to say," Wilmes said.
A political row erupted last year over security in the Gare area after city mayor Lydie Polfer hired the firm to patrol the streets, putting her at odds with interior security minister Henri Kox, who is in charge of the police.
The spat reached a climax when a guard dog belonging to one of the private security firms shook off its muzzle and bit a member of the public. Wilmes said that was one element, but not the main one, considered as to whether the contract should be extended or not.
An investigation into that incident is underway but police have not yet filed all the relevant documents with the public prosecutor’s office, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor told The Luxembourg Times.
Four-fifths of those polled in the Gare district said they wanted more action to improve security, a survey published in February found, while more than two-thirds said that the presence of private security agents made them feel safer.
The CSV, governing the city but leading the opposition at a national level, in September requested a package of measures to improve police presence, which it said it would discuss with Kox, who responded by announcing plans to hire an additional 1,000 police officers by 2026. That promise, and a recent government proposal on how to handle drug-related crime, had led to the council's decision not to immediately extend the controversial contract, Wilmes said.
The security firm started work for the council after protesters in the Gare took to the streets, complaining they were not being taken seriously amid what they said were increases in crime and drug dealing in the neighbourhood.
Asked whether the council was satisfied with the work of the G4S security firm, Wilmes said that "the experience has been a mixed one as always. There have been good things and less good things," such as security agents who did not always identify themselves properly at first.
No date for the meeting has been set, Wilmes said, but he was aiming for a date later this year. In a press release on Tuesday, the leftwing party Déi Lénk welcomed the news, as it had been requested by all opposition parties in the council, and underlined that "repressive means must remain the exclusive responsibility of the Grand-Ducal Police and Justice".
Two legal challenges relating to the contracts are still continuing through Luxembourg’s courts.
The cases, jointly lodged by Ana Correia Da Veiga and Guy Foetz, two councillors for déi Lenk on the Luxembourg city council, were taken against both the council and the Interior Ministry earlier this year.
The challenge against the council questions the legality of the contract and whether the city authority was acting within its rights in hiring private security agents, while the second case argues that the Interior Minister Taina Bofferding should have used her powers to intervene to override the city council’s decision.
Those cases will continue regardless of the decision not to renew the G4S contract, in an attempt to set a benchmark for any future decisions on private security, Correia Da Veiga told The Luxembourg Times.
“If there is something illegal in the contracts, then the Interior Minister should intervene,” she said. “The result (of the cases) will impact the decision of any future contracts.” The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Luxembourg’s Administrative Court on December 1, according to the public prosecutor's office. However, a decision is not expected until next year, Correia Da Veiga added.
(Additional reporting by John Monaghan)