Council members debate whether to add extra security at meetings

Officers could possibly screen attendees with bag checks, metal detector wands

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published January 22, 2016

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MADISON HEIGHTS — It hasn’t been put up for a vote, but there is talk on the Madison Heights City Council of implementing tighter security at council meetings.

Mayor Brian Hartwell said he is against it, but feels he is in the minority. He worries that screening attendees would alienate them from attending public meetings. He also feels the extra security is an extreme reaction to nonexistent threats, and wholly unnecessary.

At the other end of the debate is City Councilman David Soltis, who insists it’s a proactive step in an unpredictable world. He says his No. 1 priority is public safety, keeping the residents and businesses safe, and this is part of that. He also said it would make attendees feel more secure.

The call to add tighter security comes in light of recent world events such as the attacks in Paris and the shooting in San Bernardino, California, and in light of two attendees who spoke at council meetings last year and reportedly came off threatening in their demeanor.

The way that Soltis envisions the added security, it shouldn’t cost the city anything other than the price of a metal detector wand. The two existing reserve officers who already attend City Council meetings would briefly check the bags and loose-fitting clothing of all attendees, regardless of whether they’re well-known or appear harmless. They would also briefly sweep guests with the metal detector wand. It’s a less elaborate version of the same protocol used at the courthouse. 

Unlike a courthouse, attendees are allowed to exercise their Second Amendment rights at public meetings. If someone has a firearm on their person, their permit would be verified. At that point, officers would at least know who is armed and who’s not.

“For me, the world, the way it is right now, I’m for this check. In this day and age, people don’t threaten anymore; they just act on violence. Nobody sends a warning,” Soltis said.

“I’m not 100 percent sure that (an act of violence) wouldn’t happen in Madison Heights. Therefore, I’m not willing to risk anyone’s safety.

“And we’d check everyone,” he added. “We’re not singling anyone out. Everyone who walks through the door, the same kind of procedure has to happen. There’s no chance of profiling.”

Hartwell said that’s part of the problem he has with the idea.

“It is the definition of overkill,” the mayor said. “My grandmother would have to be searched every time; our wives and children would have to be checked too. And once we start doing this, we can’t stop doing this. What’s an issue now will be seen as an issue every year.”

Soltis doesn’t think it would be very inconvenient.

“It’s just a brief search of the purse, a wave of the wand, and you’re done,” Soltis said.

“And you have two officers, so they can do (the search and wand) at the same time. It’s not going to hold up anyone.”

But adding a security check wouldn’t stop a motivated killer, Hartwell said. He noted the variety of ways someone could still attack council members, inside or outside of City Hall. More to the point, he said the fear is completely unfounded.

“It’s not a courthouse or known crime area. It’s City Hall,” Hartwell said. “It’s an extreme reaction to something I don’t even think is real. But more importantly, I think it’s hurting accessibility to City Hall. We are public officials, and we get publicly attacked (in words) from time to time. To now impose a level of police and armed security checks because of two cases of people acting badly at a City Council meeting is so twisted. It’s fearful, and the solution is incomplete.

“Let me be clear: There is no danger at City Hall,” Hartwell said. “I am not fearful of an attack. Sure, I lock my door at my house and I lock my car, and maybe I look over my shoulder if I walk through a parking lot at night. But I don’t proceed with life being fearful of every possible outcome.”

Soltis said it’s not about living in fear or being paranoid. He also said he’s aware that a simple check isn’t a foolproof plan against terrorism. But he said it’s better than nothing, and it might be enough to deter someone with ill intentions. And he said it makes sense in a world where nothing is certain, and where disgruntled individuals might take out their anger on policymakers and the residents who attend their meetings.

“It’s a way to control the situation to provide safety,” Soltis said. “Anytime we can mitigate risk, that’s good for the public. This security check is a way to do that. We can’t live in a bubble (of fear), and I understand that. But we can do something about this specific instance.”

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