Amid safety concerns, City Hall upping security

Posted at 8:00 PM, Mar 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-03 15:03:22-05

CINCINNATI — As mass shooting events continue to occur throughout the country — including a shooting incident at Madison Jr./Sr. High School in Madison Township just this past Monday — City of Cincinnati staff are readying to implement increased security measures at City Hall.

In a report released Wednesday, City Manager Harry Black outlined new measures and procedures that will go into effect soon at both City Hall as well as the Centennial II building a block away, which houses the city’s zoning, permitting, human resources and data offices.

Among one of the most major updates, metal detectors will be installed at the front and courtyard entrances to City Hall, effective April 4. Only those with long-term city-issued ID’s will not be required to pass through the metal detectors.

City Hall has had an on-again, off-again relationship with metal detectors. The security devices were added in 2003 at the request of then-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, they came down because new Mayor Mark Mallory wanted to make City Hall more open and accessible.

Then, following the 2006 shooting of civil rights activist Kabaka Oba outside City Hall, Mallory had council chambers redesigned with bulletproof desks, and he assigned himself a security detail.

Wednesday's report came at the request of Councilman Christopher Smitherman, who raised safety concerns in December, roughly a week after 14 people were killed and 21 were injured at a city public health training event and holiday party in San Bernardino, California on Dec. 2.

As WCPO previously reported, Smitherman and his staff were so worried about security in City Hall that they wanted a rope ladder to lower out the third-floor window of his office, in case they ever had to escape from a dangerous situation.

Smitherman also told WCPO in December that he was not aware of an active shooter plan for the buildings. City spokesperson Rocky Merz said such a plan was in place but was in the process of being updated.

Black’s report states that active shooter plan was refreshed, effective Feb. 23 of this year.

The recommendations for increased security have met with some pushback, however. Following Black's report, Vice Mayor David Mann filed a motion calling for qualifications to the use of medal detectors, saying there should be no ID requirements or escorts for visitors once they've passed the screening.

"City Hall is a public building. City Council is a public body whose members must be easily accessible to the citizens," Mann said in a statement accompanying the motion. "Once we are assured that an individual is not armed, I find the other proposed restrictions to be totally at odds with our commitment to participatory democracy with an engaged citizenry."

When he decided to discontinue the mayoral use of a body guard in 2013, Mayor John Cranley previewed some of Mann's sentiments, saying, “Generally I view this is the people’s building," he said. "I’d like it to be open to the people."

But Cranley remained sensitive to concerns of safety both then and now. In early December, Mayor John Cranley asked for a mock drill of how city leaders would respond to a school shooting or a mass shooting. This is something police and fire regularly practice, but Cranley wanted to understand what his role would be in a worst-case scenario.

“What I worry about is in light of what’s happened, the mass shootings, is dealing with something like that happening here,” he said.

So far in 2016, there have been 34 mass shooting events — which include any incident involving four or more deaths or injuries — according to Black’s report. The Gun Violence Archive has documented as many as 37 mass shooting incidents in 2016 as of Feb. 28.

Cincinnati’s aren’t the only local officials looking to beef up security. In September, Hamilton County leaders stationed two sheriff’s deputies at the entrance to their 11-story administration building downtown. They also added an X-ray scanner and metal detector.

Here are some of the other measures in store for City Hall and the Centennial II building (effective dates in parentheses):

  • Employee and visitor ID badges must be worn and visible at all times (April 4)
  • Employees are only permitted to use approved entrances and exits (April 4)
  • New guidelines regarding visitor sign in and other procedures (April 4)
  • Doors shall never be propped open (April 4)
  • Updated mail processing procedures (July, pending fiscal assessment)
  • Mail and package deliveries will no longer be made at City Hall (July)
  • Mail handling staff will be identified (July)
  • Mailroom staff will be trained in handling suspicious packages and mail, and latex gloves and protective eyewear will be required in the mailroom (July)
  • Increased video security equipment, including integration with the Cincinnati Police Department’s Real Time Crime Center (July)
  • Additional training and enhanced weapons and equipment for City Hall security personnel (April 4)

The report made no mention of a rope ladder for Smitherman's office.

WCPO's Paula Christian and Amanda Seitz contributed to this report.