Security remains low-key at local government buildings

Friday, July 25, 2003

The recent shooting death of a New York City councilman by a political rival has put security at government buildings across the country back under scrutiny.

In Cape Girardeau County, the only government buildings where visitors are required to show proof of identity and walk through a metal detector are the airport and the federal courthouse.

Prior to Wednesday's murder of Councilman James Davis, 41, it was common at New York City Hall for the mayor, council members and their accompanying guests to bypass the metal detectors. Davis was shot by his guest, Othniel Askew, 31, who died a short time later after being shot by a police officer.

Jackson city administrator Jim Roach said keeping a public building accessible and secure at the same time can be a challenging "balancing act." During board of aldermen meetings, access to city hall is limited to just one door and occassionally police officers will patrol its corridors.

"We want people to have access, but at the same time we want our staff and elected officials to feel safe," he said.

Security addressed

After Sept. 11, security issues were addressed at Cape Girardeau City Hall, said interim city manager Doug Leslie. But adding metal detectors and limiting entrances was judged too expensive and inconvenient to residents to be viable, so staff members were instructed to be more observant and to report suspicious situations, he said.

"Our best thing is our people, who are vigilant in being on the the lookout for things or people who don't belong," he said. "We take it seriously, but at the same time we don't want to impair public access."

The city's water and wastewater treatment plants have a posted guard at the entrance. Photo identification is required of visitors and delivery drivers must open their truck doors to inspection before being allowed past the gate, Leslie said.

Jackson and Cape Girardeau police and the sheriff's deparment require visitors to remain in the lobby unless escorted by an officer behind the department's locked doors and bullet-proof glass.

At the federal courthouse in Cape Girardeau, members of the U.S. Marshal's Service review visitors and their belongings. A state driver's license or photo identification card is required to enter the building beyond the lobby.

Visitors are required to empty their pockets and walk through a metal detector and any bags or belongings are X-rayed on a conveyor belt. Visitors may be asked to remove shoes, jewelry and belts if they set off the alarm.

The security procedure is much the same at the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport, where Cape Girardeau police officers handle security and identification checks.

However, their involvement will be phased out as federal employees from the Transportation Security Administration assume those duties, said Lt. Ike Hammonds.

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