Capitol Shootings Prompt New Debate
Jul. 28, 1998
With guard dogs and armed guards, many of the nation's statehouses are bolstering security following last week's deadly shootout at the U.S. Capitol, although authorities are wary of turning public buildings into fortresses.
State police troopers have joined the usual unit of unarmed park rangers who guard the statehouse in Boston, and more officers are coming to Austin, Texas, as well as St. Paul, Minn. Illinois' Capitol has been on heightened alert, and officials in Pennsylvania, Iowa and Washington state are meeting to reassess how they guard their statehouses.
``This is probably the least secure building in Sacramento,'' Sean Walsh, spokesman for Gov. Pete Wilson, said of California's Capitol.
Armed officers with dogs were sent to patrol Sacramento's statehouse and grounds Friday after a gunman stormed into the U.S. Capitol through a visitor's entrance, killing two police officers and wounding a tourist.
But authorities in other states said they planned no security changes, typically because they already examined their systems after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 or because they didn't want to hinder public access.
``Our position has been the House belongs to the people of Montana and it's going to be open,'' House Speaker John Mercer said of that state's decision not to use metal detectors or armed guards. ``We don't want to live in that kind of society. You become prisoners of your own security.''
Kevin Valentini, who lives just outside Washington, D.C., visited Nebraska's Capitol on Monday and said the atmosphere there was a refreshing change from what he sees back home.
``It's a different world out here,'' he said. ``We just waltzed right in, no one stopped us.''
Officials in Harrisburg, Pa., met Monday to review security at their Capitol, and agreed that access is a sensitive issue.
``We don't want to seem like Fort Knox _ we want people to come in. This is the people's building,'' said Samantha Elliott, spokeswoman for the Department of General Services, which oversees state buildings and grounds.
Portable metal detectors and surveillance cameras are available, Elliott said, but officials are trying not to go overboard.
In Maryland, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said Monday there should be metal detectors at public entrances to the statehouse in Annapolis. Gov. Parris Glendening and House Speaker Casper Taylor agreed to review the proposal.
Security at various other public buildings was stepped up a notch, including at the Minton Capehart Federal Building in downtown Indianapolis, where guards were told to pay closer attention to visitors. Officials at Dallas City Hall said they also were evaluating their safety system.
``They've been put on a higher alert to check and make sure they check employees, and just be more vigilant in their duties,'' security inspector Dan Kvachkoff said.
While security at federal buildings has gotten more publicity in recent years because of the deadly bombing at Oklahoma City's Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, officials say statehouses receive their share of threats as well.
Capt. Patrick Chase, head of security at Minnesota's Capitol, said he regularly receives threatening phone calls, including one Monday. His office keeps extensive files on callers and is aggressive about tracing calls and tracking down the people who make them.
And authorities in West Virginia said they already had decided to do a major review after a bomb scare earlier this month. No one was hurt but state police shut down the Capitol for two hours, forcing out thousands of employees, after Gov. Cecil Underwood received a bomb threat through interoffice mail.
Legislators quickly passed a bill that created a new agency to gather information on security needs at the statehouse after security officials said the culprit might have been caught had there been more surveillance cameras in the building.