V.I.P.'s No Longer
 
On July 24, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg passed through a metal detector in front of the City Hall building for the first time. Before that day, Bloomberg, members of the city council and sometimes their guests were allowed to bypass the security checkpoint.

The change in policy came a day after Othaniel Askew, who had registered as a candidate for the city council, opened fire with a handgun in City Hall, firing 14 times and killing his prospective opponent in the election, Brooklyn Councilman James Davis. Askew, who bypassed metal detectors outside the facility, was then shot and killed by a police officer at the meeting.

The horrible scene has prompted local governments around the country to examine city hall security measures especially who is allowed to bypass visitor screening measures already in place.

"Not everyone was going through the magnetometer, myself included," Bloomberg said in a statement after the shootings. "Now, if you don't go through the magnetometer you're not getting into City Hall period."

In other states, security policies vary widely. Many police forces have requested a re-examination of city hall security policies following the New York shooting.

In Mobile, Ala., city councilman Fred Richardson has suggested moving the location of some council meetings from a conference room with no metal detectors, to a ninth-floor meeting room that provides one.

The city of Paterson, N.J., has applied for grant money from the Department of Homeland Security to increase city hall security measures. "You just can't take it for granted that when you come into City Hall, nothing will happen," Councilman Juan Torres says.

Houston Mayor Lee Brown has suggested it makes sense to restrict city hall access with metal detectors. "We can't always generalize from what takes place in other cities particularly in New York," he says, "but I'd rather err on the side of caution than have a problem occur in our city."

Other cities, such as Atlanta, San Diego and Oklahoma City, are considering simliar measures at their city halls. "We are trying to cover every avenue as far as security is concerned," Lt. Debra Williams of the Atlanta executive protection unit told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She added that she is meeting with the New York police to discuss city hall security measures.

On the national front, the U.S. Capitol Police are reconsidering its policy of letting guests of members of Congress bypass metal detectors when entering the building, reports Congressional Quarterly.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said at July's U.S. Conference of Mayors that the decision to install metal detectors and other visitor screening technology at the local level should remain with local officials. He added that DHS regulations do not allow for federal reimbursement for the purchase of magnetometers for local government use.

With the decision in the hands of local officials, many governments have decided not to add additional layers of security at city hall complexes.

Currently in San Diego, for example, city employees wearing visible identification credentials are allowed to walk around metal detectors. While they plan to re-examine that policy, city officials were confident of the security measures already in place.

For many city managers and mayors, however, security measures in public arenas such as city halls and city council meetings, create a difficult balance between safety needs and the need for universal accessibility to such meetings.

"We have an open form of government, so I don't want to abridge that," Cambridge, Mass., Mayor Michael Sullivan told the Cambridge Chronicle. "But at the same time, I want to make sure I come home at night."


 
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