July 25, 2003 Indianapolis Star Article

Residents Question Downtown Security

July 25, 2003
This week's shooting death of a New York City councilman has raised an often-asked question in Indianapolis: Just how much security at government buildings is enough? From the City-County Building to the Statehouse, security measures have long been argued. And issues of convenience, freedom, safety and cost have muddied the debate.

"They should have a little more security," Roberto Zavala, 30, said after making his way through a metal detector near the City-County Building's front door Thursday. He questioned the decision to screen visitors only after they are well inside the building.

"If I'm a terrorist, it's too late," he said. "I'm already in."

Highlighting the difficulty of reaching a consensus, attorney Fred Pfenninger called the building's security "decent" but said officials should make an exception for lawyers who do business there -- just as they do for employees and journalists. Many lawyers have requested such an exception, but that is still "an open question," said Steve Campbell, a spokesman for Mayor Bart Peterson.

The New York incident has not led to any immediate security changes at local government buildings. But in response to the killing and anger over recent property tax increases, the state sent a memo to elected officials Thursday recommending that they carry cell phones, avoid traveling alone, put barriers between themselves and potentially hostile people and have adequate security in place for public meetings.

Officials say security measures, especially since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, are continuously reviewed. Peterson said the city will be looking to upgrade City-County Building security after it receives $662,000 in federal homeland security money later this summer.

"Some might be (measures) we don't want people to know about," he said.

Metal detectors, the building's most obvious security measure, were added in 2001, and the police presence was recently heightened during City-County Council meetings.

In New York's City Hall on Wednesday, a gunman killed a councilman after the councilman escorted him into the building and past security. Here, City Hall workers are not allowed to escort guests who lack building identification cards, although that is known to sometimes happen.

The mayor said officials will look at "the standards for giving out the badges" that allow workers to bypass security.

At other government buildings in the city, security rules vary.

In contrast to New York City's municipal building and the City-County Building here, each and every person who enters the U.S. District Courthouse at 46 E. Ohio St. must go through metal detectors and consent to searches by the U.S. Marshals Service.

Around the perimeter, parking is restricted to the building's north side. That's by special permit only and is closely monitored.

But at state government buildings, security remains lax to nonexistent.

The marble corridors of the Statehouse at 200 W. Washington St. are open to anyone who shows up, regardless of whether they are armed. There are no metal detectors, and visitors can flow in through 10 entrances.

But Clifford Ong, director of Indiana's Counter-Terrorism and Security Council, said it is unlikely metal detectors will be placed in state buildings. He said people expect government to be open and accessible.

"People almost like seeing that sort of protection at airports," Ong said. "Still, I'd like it to be better, and it will be better."

Matthew Tully
Indianapolis Star