Officials are studying how to beef up security at Fresno City Hall.
Nothing definite has been decided. City Hall Communications Director Mark Standriff said the review is not tied to the recent murder of three people on the edge of Downtown’s Mural District.
“We periodically review the security plan for City Hall,” Standriff told me Thursday afternoon. “We’re in the process of doing that now. We are considering a number of options.”
I’d heard from a source that the city is seriously thinking about assigning a uniformed police officer to some type of security duty at City Hall. I mentioned this to Standriff.
“We are exploring a number of options, but there is nothing set in stone now,” Standriff said.
Standriff assured me that the tragic events of April 18 did not spark the security review.
“Every administration, I’m sure, has had this similar kind of review,” Standriff said. “It’s just part of the process of looking around the building and saying, ‘Do we have the security we believe we need? Do we need to make changes? What can we afford?’ There are a number of things being discussed. But right now there is nothing specific on the table.”
As to the scope of the review, Standriff said: “Everything at City Hall. It’s all part of the discussion.”
All reporters covering City Hall eventually come across security stories. City officials in these situations generally are both forthright and guarded. Some security measures are thoroughly publicized; that enhances their deterrence effect. Some measures are kept secret; as Standriff noted, their effectiveness is compromised if everyone knows they exist.
It’s safe to guess that the presence of a uniformed police officer and a change to one of City Hall’s back entrances are among the improved security options being discussed.
For starters, neither idea is new. I’ve written in years past about both of them.
Some of you may recall the tension at City Council meetings some six or seven years ago. The trouble centered on the council’s unscheduled oral communication period. This is when anyone in the audience can address the council on any topic concerning municipal governance. The time limit is three minutes per person.
The council at this point in time (we’re talking Mayor Ashley Swearengin’s first term) was in the habit of holding unscheduled oral communication early in the meeting. This meant speakers knew they had only a short wait before they got their chance at the public microphone.
Some homeless men and homeless advocates learned they could effortlessly commandeer the unscheduled oral communication period. They did so week in and week out. Their purpose was part vanity. One of the homeless men described himself as the “singing cowboy” – he sang his protests while picking at his guitar.
But their main purpose was political. Before too long, the unscheduled oral communication period was full of threats directed toward city officials.
I recall that Council President Larry Westerlund (now the city’s economic development director) on more than one occasion was specifically threatened.
Pretty soon there was a uniformed police officer sitting at the back of the Council Chamber. The presence of the officer, along with a council decision to move unscheduled oral communication to a floating spot late in the meeting (who wants to sit through hours of sewer farm hearings just to spout vitriol for three minutes?) calmed things down.
The officer was reassigned.
Then there is City Hall’s design.
There is a prominent public entrance on the back side (the east side) of City Hall. But there’s another, less well-known, entrance on the back side. It’s located near the parking spots for the Mayor, city manager and council members. A lot of City Hall workers use this entrance. So do reporters; I’ve never found the door to be locked during normal City Hall business hours.
Yet, as I’ve written about before, it’s seems mighty strange to me that this entrance isn’t restricted to city employees even during normal business hours. This restriction could be the use of a code or ID card to unlock the door. It’s been a while since I’ve gone in and out of that door. But if that door remains on option for anyone who finds it, then I repeat for the benefit of the committee currently reviewing City Hall security policy the suggestion I made long ago: Secure that back door.
One final point. The City Council held a meeting on Thursday. I caught the very end of it. I walked into the Council Chamber with my backpack. Then I left the Council Chamber. I sat in the second-level lobby and talked to Standriff about City Hall security.
Standriff pointed to my backpack. He didn’t say a word.
I got the message. The checking of backpacks as people enter the Council Chamber may well be one of the security options now under review at City Hall.
Don’t be fooled. April 18, 2017 changed Fresno.