More changes to Cincinnati city hall security?
The level of security at Cincinnati city hall is once again being debated. Some changes have already been put in place after a man drove his truck up to the front steps of the building last month and asked to meet with the mayor. He was detained without incident and no one was hurt.
Now some council members want a comprehensive review of security at the building.
The Law and Public Safety Committee this week asked administrators to prepare a report on building security. Committee chairman Christopher Smitherman said there needs to be a discussion before there is a crisis at city hall.
“What we want to do is make sure that we’re safe in here,” Smitherman said. “My sense is when I come in the doors that we’re not be proactive around the safety of our city workers here, to the extent taking basic precautionary measures.”
Smitherman's original motion wanted a report on reinstalling metal detectors at the building entrances. He said he wants to know how much it would cost and how soon they could be in place. Smitherman is suggesting the idea be debated as part of upcoming budget negotiations.
Council Member Yvette Simpson also wants a security review at city hall, but she said it should go beyond metal detectors and be more thorough.
“It feels like we are reacting to a scenario that just happened and maybe not thinking of it strategically, big picture, but reacting to that incident,” Simpson said. “Rather than thinking about the entire security of the building, making an evaluation about whether it’s sufficient in context of the most recent situation and how we might make the entire building safer without making it feel like we’re in a police state.”
Simpson said officials should focus on the safety of all city hall employees, not just the mayor, council members and other high level personnel like the city manager.
Not all council members are on board with the heightened security. Charlie Winburn said he is not sure he likes the spirit of the review.
“I get the feeling that citizens are going to be restrained, I felt it coming in, I don’t like that,” Winburn said. “I don’t like when I have to escort people coming to my office to see me. If we have that kind of fear, maybe we shouldn’t be down here at city hall.”
City hall had metal detectors at the entrances from late 2003 until early 2006.
They were installed after then Vice Mayor Alicia Reece was in New York city when a council member there was killed in a shooting incident at city hall.
Former Mayor Mark Mallory had them removed soon after he took office to make city hall more open and accessible. Since then visitors have had to sign in when entering the building and are given visitor's badges.
After the truck incident last month, people who want to meet with the mayor and city manager must sign in and then wait to be escorted to those offices. Crews are building walls to prevent the public from being able to directly access those offices at city hall.
While council is asking for a report on building security, it's unclear on how much information city administrators will provide publicly. Those details are largely kept secret and Ohio law also makes clear those documents are not subject to open records requests from the media.