Archive for Thursday, February 14, 2008

Missouri city hall slayings have some rethinking security

February 14, 2008

Remember and rethink. Area government leaders are expected to do a bit of both following an attack at a Missouri city hall on Thursday that left six people dead.

De Soto City Administrator Pat Guilfoyle maintains a fatalistic outlook in the wake of the shooting. There is as much of a chance to run across a madman with a gun on a highway or in a shopping mall, he said.

Still, Guilfoyle said he had experience with an individual that left him leery and alert. A man who came to meetings at a New Jersey city where he served was often disruptive and threatening, Guilfoyle said.

"He was escorted from the meetings on more than one occasion," he said. "I always made it a point to know where his hands where."

Although Guilfoyle said he didn't anticipate the city making security improvements in the wake of the Kirkwood, Mo., slayings, that is not the case in other cities.

"I think we're probably going to take an additional look at our security," Lawrence City Manager David Corliss said Friday. "I expect municipal governments are really going to take a moment to think about those who lost their lives, and I expect we'll look to see if there is anything more that we need to do."

A gunman with a history of run-ins with city leaders stormed Kirkwood, Mo., City Hall Thursday and shot and killed five individuals - police officers, council members and a staff member - before being shot and killed by police.

On Friday, government leaders in Kansas were somber in their reaction. But Lawrence city commissioners stopped far short of predicting the tragedy would spark noticeable security changes, such as the use of metal detectors to enter City Hall.

Several expressed skepticism that such devices would provide much benefit.

"I think what (the Missouri shooting) shows is that if you have somebody with a very nefarious intent, and the person has the firepower to do it, I'm not sure any level of security is going to account for that," said City Commissioner Rob Chestnut.

City commissioners said they were sensitive about creating an environment that wasn't open and inviting to the public.

"We don't want to be like a convenience store with Plexiglas in front of us," Mayor Sue Hack said. "It is a public meeting and the public needs to have access to their elected officials."

Commissioners previously have implemented some security measures. Following a pair of 2006 incidents where a belligerent Lawrence man had to be removed from City Hall on consecutive nights, a uniformed police officer has attended all Tuesday evening commission meetings. Corliss also has said City Hall has other, less visible security measures in place.

For Hack, the news of the Missouri shootings had added impact. Hack grew up in the community adjacent to Kirkwood. In fact, Kirkwood was her high school's rival.

Hack said she does want to be proactive in preventing similar tragedies from occurring in Lawrence. She said stressing the importance of civility would play an important role.

"Every time I've run for office, that has been a theme of mine, but I'm not sure we have made much progress in that arena," Hack said. "I think we have people angry with each other. That kind of shows through on some of these online blogs. It seems like such a waste of energy."

Commissioners Mike Dever and Boog Highberger both stressed the importance of creating a government environment where citizens feel empowered to speak their mind.

"The best policy is to treat citizens with as much respect as possible and give them every opportunity to speak out," Dever said.

Outside Lawrence City Hall, the potential responses to the shooting incident were mixed.

Douglas County Administrator Craig Weinaug said he thought it was unlikely that the County Commission would more frequently use sheriff's deputies for meeting security. He said deputies are only used when the commission is expected to deal with a highly controversial item.

In Baldwin City, council members said they may consider formalizing the practice of having a uniformed police officer at each council meeting, although the police chief usually attends the meetings.

In Lansing, at least one on-duty officer attends council meetings. But City Administrator Mike Smith said he has directed the city's police chief to devise new security measures for council meetings. Those measures may include scanning people with a metal-detecting wand as they come into a council meeting. That practice is used in the city's municipal court.

In Basehor, Mayor Chris Garcia said discussions likely would occur about additional security measure, but thought the use of metal detectors was unlikely.

In Tonganoxie, a camera already is in place that feeds images from council meetings to the Tonganoxie Police Department. Tonganoxie Mayor Mike Vestal said he doesn't fear any physical attacks during his meetings, but he does fear the Kirkwood tragedy could have a chilling effect on the way city business is run.

"I just hope it doesn't affect the way people vote," Vestal said. "I don't want someone to not vote for something because they are afraid someone is going to retaliate. You have to do what is in the city's best interest."

- Staff writer Mike Belt, Baldwin City Signal editor Jeff Myrick, Tonganoxie Mirror reporter Estuardo Garcia, and Lansing Current editor John Taylor, and De Soto Explorer editor Elvyn J. Jones contributed to this report.

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