The attempted assassination of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has prompted Tempe to bolster security by installing a metal detector and X-ray machine at the entrance to the City Council chambers.
Tempe has used the same equipment at the entrance to City Hall since last year, one of many security upgrades made in recent years following shootings on campuses and in government buildings. This response was much faster than what followed other shootings, however.
“The reason that we’re doing it now is clearly a result of the events of Tucson,” City Manager Charlie Meyer said. “It’s a grim reminder of the need for security in public meetings like that.”
The city will use the security devices for the first time at Thursday’s council meeting.
Tempe got the equipment last year but didn’t initally decide where to use it, Meyer said, adding the machines are portable enough to be used at special events. The city didn’t want to use the equipment for council meetings yet because the chamber doors go directly outside instead of through a lobby, so there’s no separate area for security screening. Officials feared the screening would disrupt meetings and thought about adding the equipment only after the city had money to build a vestibule, Meyer said. That thinking changed after the Jan. 8 shootings.
“We’re trying to minimize the impact on the meeting and to the public, but we think we have an obligation to do what we can to make it safe for the public,” Meyer said.
The X-ray machine resembles devices at airports, with rollers feeding items into an enclosure as a security guard views the contents on a monitor. The machine, a walk-through magnetometer and a hand wand cost $47,740, funded with a federal security grant.
A private security firm will screen visitors, at a cost of $238 per meeting. The city has had two police officers at meetings for years, and Meyer said that will continue.
Tempe is still reviewing its security plans and may also screen people attending Development Review Commission meetings because those sessions are sometimes volatile, Meyer said.
Local governments have gradually increased security at their buildings and during meetings, whether it’s by restricting public access to some parts of buildings or by making visitors sign in with security guards.
Some changes are small, like one the Gilbert Unified School District considered even before the Tucson shooting. School officials are reviewing a Gilbert police recommendation to restrict access to the district office, where people attending board meetings can currently wander through the building.
Officials are examining plans to install doors to keep visitors in the board room only, district spokeswoman Dianne Bowers said.
Other changes have been larger, such as Mesa adding a metal detector to its council chambers about a decade ago. It’s the only other East Valley city with that equipment.
Mesa Mayor Scott Smith on Tuesday said security is under review again — though not just for those who hold office. He noted that citizens attending Giffords’ “Congress on Your Corner” event were among the six killed and 13 wounded.
“What really is disconcerting is to think that somebody can come and participate in the democratic process, which is to meet and talk with their elected officials, and not be safe. And that’s where we’re really looking,” he said. “(It’s) not so much, what can we do to increase the security for elected officials? (It’s) how can we create a safer environment when elected officials are present?”