Tighter security coming to City Hall?

Posted at 2:41 PM, Jan 19, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-19 14:41:22-05

Security at Cincinnati City Hall is about to get a lot tighter.

Soon the historic Plum Street building may add metal detectors, new security cameras, parking restrictions and a centralized place where workers trained on suspicious packages handle all city mail. 

“The world, unfortunately, is not getting friendlier. The world is not getting safer,” City Manager Harry Black told council’s Law and Public Safety Committee on Tuesday.

Security at City Hall has remained largely unchanged over the past decade, while other public buildings have boosted safety in the wake of so many mass shootings nationwide.

County leaders stationed two sheriff’s deputies at the entrance to their 11-story administration building in September. They also added an X-ray scanner and metal detector to this East Court Street building where Hamilton County Commissioners meet.

But this has not happened at City Hall, largely because there are two factions of city leaders: those who want more security, such as Black, and others who want to keep the building open to the public.

Now Black, who doesn’t need council’s approval to make security changes, is pushing hard for them.

“Not everybody is going to be happy,” Black said. “But clearly I have a responsibility to push the envelope.”

This comes a month after Council Member Christopher Smitherman, who chairs the public safety committee, filed a motion asking for a report on building security.

Council member Christopher Smitherman


Smitherman said he had no idea what to do if an active shooter ever came into City Hall. His staff is so worried, they asked for rope ladder to lower out the third-floor window of his office in case they ever had to escape from a dangerous situation.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Assistant City Manager Shelia Hill-Christian revealed a list of changes being considered by a new security committee, including restricting parking on Plum Street and in the courtyard behind City Hall, and allowing Cincinnati police access to their security video feeds so they could monitor activity.

The committee will make recommendations to Black, who will ultimately decide. But he said he wants to hear input from City Council.

“Implementation as fast as you can, that is what is important,” Smitherman said.

But not everyone agreed.

“We also need to understand that this is a public building and we are public servants,” said Council Member Yvette Simpson. “I don’t want this building to be in shut-down mode and people can’t get in here.”


City council chambers


Metal Detectors Come and Go At City Hall 

Security at City Hall has gotten tighter and looser over the past 12 years, depending largely on the perceived threat level.

Metal detectors were added in 2003 at the request of Vice Mayor Alicia Reese after returning from a trip to New York City where a city councilman was shot and killed at City Hall.

Two years later the metal detectors came down because new Mayor Mark Mallory wanted to make City Hall more open and accessible.

Then civil rights activist Kabaka Oba was shot outside city hall in April 2006. He had just spoken to City Council and was getting in his car across the street when another car sped by, firing six shots.

In the aftermath, Mallory pulled a police officer to be his body guard. Council chambers were redesigned in 2006 and bulletproof desks added so that council members could duck behind them if there was ever a shooter.

When Cranley became mayor in 2013, he got rid of the bodyguard that Mallory had become famous for. He also doesn’t have a driver and believes City Hall should be open to the public.


Photo courtesy of Cincinnati police


A Truck into City Hall

In January 2015, Cincinnati police investigated dozens of harassing and obscene emails that were being sent to Cranley and other leaders.

Soon after, they arrested a homeless man for sending emails such as “Drop dead.”

Days later, on Jan. 23, a Bellevue, Kentucky man drove his pickup truck onto the lowest front step of City Hall, saying he wanted to talk to the mayor.

This prompted immediate security changes. Black stationed a second guard at the main entrance to City Hall and constructed barriers outside of the mayor and city manager’s offices.

Their offices are just steps from the front door and until then, visitors could freely walk into their offices. Now they need escorts.

Plans are already underway to erect barriers on the second and third floors of City Hall in 2016 to block visitors from walking into the offices of council members without an escort.

Council member Yvette Simpson

But Simpson doesn’t like that idea.

“People should be able to come up to my office and talk to my staff without calling in advance,” she said.

But Smitherman disagreed and warned, “the world is changing.”

The security committee will meet with Black in the coming weeks to hammer out final ideas.

In the meantime, Smitherman and the entire City Council will be trained Wednesday so they know what to do in case of an active shooter.