Budget cuts lead to relaxed security at Capitol complex

Thursday, May 29, 2003

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- As a result of budget cuts, security at the Missouri Capitol will return to the relaxed levels in place before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Starting July 1, Missouri plans to do away with its private security guards and remove the metal detectors posted at the doors of the Capitol and two nearby office buildings, state officials said Wednesday.

"The bottom line is we don't have any money to continue" the precautions, said Lin Appling, director of the Division of Facilities Management.

Before the terrorist attacks, people could enter and exit Missouri's Capitol through numerous doors without any security screening.

After the attacks, the state gradually increased security.

In October 2001, it closed many of the Capitol doors, began requiring employees to show identification and began making visitors pass through metal detectors.

In June 2002, the state hired private security guards to staff the metal detectors and check employee identification badges. The state has spent about $560,000 on the private guards and an additional $400,000 on security technology and equipment, officials said.

As recently as February, the state was moving ahead with plans for nearly $2.4 million in Capitol security measures, including electronic security-badge scanners, mailroom X-ray machines and a remodeling of the Capitol's main entrance to better accommodate the security checkpoints.

Plans in jeopardy

All those plans now appear in jeopardy.

The budget passed by lawmakers before their May 16 adjournment eliminated all funding for the private guards.

Without the private guards, the full-time Capitol Police lack enough people to permanently guard the doors. And without permanent guards, it makes no sense to have metal detectors, officials said.

That means the public will once again have unrestricted access to the Capitol during working hours, Appling said.

House Speaker Catherine Hanaway stopped short of calling the post-attack security an overreaction. But when told Wednesday that the security guards would be departing as a result of the legislature's budget cuts, she said: "Let them go."

"I don't feel like we are at a security risk in this building," said Hanaway, R-Warson Woods. "I think we're pretty safe here."

When the private guards depart, Capitol police will reassign a couple of officers to the daytime patrols around the Capitol complex, said police Lt. Tom Buschman. But that will mean fewer police on night duty, he said.

The enhanced security measures had been recommended by Missouri's homeland security adviser, retired Army Col. Tim Daniel.

"We still believe it's necessary to provide access control to these highly visible buildings," Daniel said. "Unfortunately, the depth of the fiscal crisis is so serious" that the state cannot afford it.

Gov. Bob Holden, has called lawmakers back for a special session beginning Monday to consider reversing $354 million in cuts to education, health and social services. But the Capitol security cuts are not on the agenda for the session.

Appling said he was concerned about the security changes and hopeful the Legislature would reconsider the security cuts next year.

Because the nation's terror alert currently is at a high level, Missouri government has placed an armed Capitol Police officer alongside the private security guards at entrances to the Capitol.

That security precaution also is expected to end July 1 -- even if the "orange" alert level remains in effect, Buschman said.

Cathy Lake, the contract coordinator for Guardsman Security and Investigation, said the Sedalia firm knew its services could be temporary when it agreed to work for the state.

"Everyone's dealing with budget issues right now -- it's something we totally expect whenever we're dealing with the state," Lake said.

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