We’re No Safer But City Council Is
A bulletproof seating platform and velvet ropes that restrict access to Cincinnati City Council members during their meetings are just two of the changes that await the group on its return from summer break next week.
Cincinnati Police Capt. Vince Demasi held a briefing today with council members’ staffs to inform them about new features added to council chambers and new policies designed to improve the safety of elected officials.
An entirely new dais was built that is larger and bulletproof, which Mayor Mark Mallory and council members can duck behind if confronted by someone brandishing a gun. Also, staffers will no longer be able to approach council members on the dais to conduct business during the meeting, but must summon members to the back of the room. Similar to a swanky nightclub, velvet ropes will be in place to discourage people from getting too close. If they do, police officers will stop them.
Total cost of physical changes to council chambers wasn’t immediately available.
The formerly open seating balcony that overlooks council chambers will be kept closed, unless absolutely necessary to handle overflow crowds. Further, the area reserved for media, which had been located behind the council dais, has been moved to the far corner near the chamber’s entrance that previously was occupied by a water cooler.
A new evacuation procedure is in place that involves having police usher the mayor and council members into an adjoining conference room and locking it, if a threatening incident occurs.
During Demasi’s briefing, it also was revealed that the police officers on duty during council meetings — sometimes up to nine per meeting — are trained SWAT members.
Safety became a concern in April, when activist Kabaka Oba was shot outside City Hall after leaving a council meeting. Mallory and council members could hear the gunshots through the window, quickly adjourned the meeting and fled the room. In that incident, however, the victim knew the perpetrator, and the pair was involved in a personal feud.
Since that time, no specific death threats against Mallory or council members have been reported, but Mallory selected police Spec. Scotty Johnson to serve as his personal bodyguard and follow him around during the day.
The new measures protect the mayor and city council, but do nothing to protect the hundreds of other employees at City Hall and don’t address what happens if someone opens fire on the crowd attending a council meeting.
During his mayoral campaign last year, Mallory promised to make City Hall more accessible to the public. When Mallory was elected, one of his first actions as mayor involved getting rid of metal detectors at City Hall’s main entrance and unlocking the doors to the mayor’s office, allowing visitors to talk to his receptionist without using a telephone in a waiting area.
Now newly appointed City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. is recommending that the metal detectors be returned to the front entrance as a method to ensure no one brings a weapon into City Hall. The request is pending before Mallory. (The Hamilton County Courthouse has metal detectors, but the county’s administrative building does not.)
With Cincinnati on track to break the city’s annual record for homicides, it remains to be seen what new measures will be implemented to increase the safety of citizens outside City Hall.
— Kevin Osborne