Minnesota's Capitol 'vulnerable' to security breachesby Tom Scheck, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Gov. Mark Dayton says he wants to review security at the Minnesota Capitol in light of the Arizona shootings on Saturday.
The incident is prompting questions about the security of the governor and the Legislature, and is forcing policy makers to come to terms with suggestions that the Capitol has inadequate measures to ensure their safety.
In May, 2009, the Legislative Auditor released a report that said the Minnesota State Capitol has "significant security vulnerabilities."
The report said Minnesota had taken only limited steps to protect the governor, lawmakers and the public. The report also said those tasked with ensuring security at the Capitol complex had no clear plan for responding to an emergency.
Little has been done to address those concerns in the year and a half since the report was issued, according to Legislative Auditor James Nobles.
"We just don't deal with security at any level until there's a tragedy, unfortunately," said Nobles.
Nobles says the Minnesota State Capitol complex, which includes the governor's office, the Legislature and the Minnesota Supreme Court, needs a thorough security check.
"Minnesota state government is really quite behind -- not only other states but other units of local government in this metropolitan area -- in terms of addressing security. So we have a long way to go," he said.
Nobles says metal detectors would improve security at the Capitol. There are no metal detectors at the building, but there are security cameras, and armed members of the State Patrol are present during the legislative session.
Gov. Dayton said he doesn't see the need for metal detectors. But he wants to meet with Nobles, Capitol Security and legislative leaders to discuss ways to improve security.
Dayton and members of his staff held a moment of silence Monday to reflect on the Arizona incident. He also ordered state flags flying over state buildings lowered to half-staff until Friday.
Dayton said he wants the review done as "soon as possible."
"A violent act of extremism, whether it's politically motivated or not, is something that we will guard against with every reasonable precaution, while at the same time recognizing that the public has free access to all of our ongoing proceeding and deliberations," said Dayton.
The balance between increased security and the expectation that the public will have free and open access to the Capitol is a delicate one.
Dayton himself caused a stir last week when he allowed dozens of protesters into a news conference in his office suite, and turned the microphone over to them. He said he would have no qualms about doing it again.
Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, says he doesn't support having metal detectors at the building. Instead, he supports hiring more members of the State Patrol to stand guard at public entryways.
Cornish acknowledged that would cost several hundred thousand dollars.
"My biggest worry, of course, is if we don't do anything, some people would be fine with that. We didn't spend any money, but if in two weeks or a month from now, if someone is injured or killed, you know the legislators are going to catch hell for not doing anything when they could," said Cornish. "So you might gamble for 100 years and be OK, but if you're not, you're going to pay the price."
Capt. Matt Langer with the Minnesota State Patrol, which oversees Capitol security, says his agency will work with the governor's office and the Legislature to come up with a security plan.
"We need to figure out what it's going to cost to provide an adequate level of security and service to the people who work and visit" the Capitol, Langer said. "We want to work with the Legislature and the governor's office to make sure that the Capitol remains a building that is open for people to come and visit."
Gov. Dayton says he hopes the meeting to discuss the security review will take place on Wednesday.
- All Things Considered, 01/10/2011, 5:17 p.m.