«RM75»«FC»«MDBO»COL041.PRB - Capitol Security«MDNM»
This past week, Missouri's Senate had an extended debate about security at the state Capitol.
At issue is a bill that would require the administration to install more surveillance cameras in the statehouse.
The sponsor is one of the legislators who had a small cross-hair sticker attached to her office door earlier this legislative session. About a half dozen legislators, most Democratic women, had targets stuck on their doors.
No motivation has been determined nor any suspects identified.
Although seemingly harmless, it has caused concern among some legislators about safety in the Capitol.
Missouri's Capitol is remarkably open. Although Capitol police patrol the building and some areas are under video surveillance, there are no metal detectors. You do not need any kind of pass or identification to enter the building. And once in, there is unrestricted access to the legislature's visitors galleries overlooking the House and Senate chambers.
My foreign guests often express surprise at how open our government buildings are compared to those in their own countries.
This latest Senate debate about statehouse security reminded me of a conversation I had with former Gov. Mel Carnahan shortly after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.
Carnahan faced enormous pressure to implement severe security measures to prevent a similar attack against Missouri's statehouse.
Carnahan clearly was frustrated at the pressure that he thought would interfere with public access to the center of government for Missouri citizens. He spoke eloquently about how the openness of the statehouse reflected something special about the nature of our government.
But he also acknowledged that any public official who did not take every conceivable precaution recommended by public safety ran the risk of being blamed for some future tragedy -- no matter how unavoidable.
Carnahan struck a balance with his response to Oklahoma City.
The Capitol's historic carriage entrance that allowed cars to be driven right up to the front door was closed off. A high-security, attack-proof guard shack was built next to the Capitol's garage entrance with barriers that are lowered only for authorized vehicles.
But there were no restrictions to pedestrian entrance into the building. There were no metal detectors. That would come later, after 9/11.
But those metal detectors did not last long.
With hundreds and sometimes thousands of schoolchildren visiting the statehouse on some days, restricting access to a few doors with metal detectors created a logjam.
There actually was a health threat created by these special security steps. To staff the metal detectors, the state hired private security. They were old, retired guys. And some smoked like chimneys as they loitered just outside the building -- so children and other visitors had to walk through a cloud of noxious tobacco smoke to get into the statehouse.
Eventually, the metal detectors and private security guards were abandoned, returning access to the levels before 9/11.
I would be remiss if I left the impression that arguments against heightened Capitol security have been limited to philosophical issues involving government openness.
That definitely was not the case with the first surveillance camera I remember being installed in the Capitol.
It recorded persons entering and leaving the Capitol's basement garage during the evening hours.
Legislators, I was told by confidential sources, demanded that it be removed because they did not want the administration to have a record of possible opposite-sex companions accompanying lawmakers who were leaving the statehouse in the late evening hours.
As always, let me know (at email@example.com) if you have any comments. If you would like your comments, or a portion of them, included in a future column, let me know and be sure to include your full name in your email.
[Phill Brooks has been a Missouri statehouse reporter since 1970, making him dean of the statehouse press corps. He is the statehouse correspondent for KMOX Radio, director of MDN and an emeritus faculty member of the Missouri School of Journalism. He has covered every governor since the late Warren Hearnes.]