Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Divisions among Governor, legislators over airport-style security at Texas capitol entrances

Reporting on the same state senate hearing described in this Grits post last week, the Texas Tribune's Brandi Grissom today notes that Gov. Perry is not on board with the Department of Public Safety's plans to install metal detectors and x-rays at entrances to the capitol:
Gov. Rick Perry and his chosen leader of the state Department of Public Safety fundamentally disagree about how to secure the Capitol in the wake of a January shooting that rattled those who work under the dome and prompted renewed calls for stricter safety measures.

DPS Director Steve McCraw has been collaborating with legislative leaders on a security improvement plan since a gunman fired shots on the Capitol grounds Jan. 21. The plan, which will be presented to state officials later this month, includes placing X-ray machines and metal detectors at Capitol entrances. While McCraw and some state senators argue the increased protective measures are critical, Perry and others in the Legislature worry such security hurdles would make the Capitol unwelcoming to the public.

Seemingly lost in all the hoopla over metal detectors at capitol entrances are the bigger threats beyond the pink granite walls. The fellow at the capitol in January who was angry at state Sen. Dan Patrick's staffer fired off shots outside, so metal detectors would do nothing to stop that. In fact, as I pointed out in that earlier post, when crowds are heaviest in spring of odd years, metal detectors risk creating more targets for outdoor gunmen while an ocean of tourists, schoolchildren, lobbyists and staff wait to be checked by security.

Grissom also reports that "At an April 2009 hearing of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security, a man named Clay Laird told Carona, chairman of the committee, that if he and other legislators didn’t clamp down on illegal immigration they would hear from him later at their homes." But once again, the threat of harm wasn't inside the capitol and if someone came to the senator's home, those metal detectors won't protect them. This solution does not match - and perhaps even exacerbates - the problems being described.

My own views are closest to those expressed at the end of the story by:
State Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, chairman of the House Administration Committee, who is working with McCraw and other legislators on the security plan, [who] said they hope to agree on and implement new safety measures before the start of the 2011 legislative session. Geren said he’s not sold on the idea of X-ray machines and metal detectors, either. Nothing lawmakers do inside the Capitol, he said, is going to keep “some idiot” from shooting his gun outside the building. “No matter what we do, we can’t stop a stupid guy from being stupid,” Geren said. “You can’t legislate stupidity.”
UPDATE: Steven Polunsky, who is committee director for the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, asked if I'd publish this addendum reacting to this post:
1. True, the recent shooter fired his weapon outside the Capitol. But, he had it on him when he was in Senator Patrick's office.

2. True, the threat our Committee members received was verbally about their homes, but that is not the issue. The salient point is that the witness clearly threatened the members, and a witness willing to do that who is sitting a few feet away from the panel has all it takes - motive, opportunity, and means. Also, the hearing was in the Extension.

I think you may have a good argument about lines forming outside the Capitol, but your attempt to reduce the nature of the threat inside the Capitol is off.
My reaction: First, I appreciate Mr. Polunsky's response. However, anyone can spin out hypotheticals, but all this security theater being suggested was spurred by specific threats that wouldn't have been deterred by metal detectors, which can't stop gunmen firing of a weapon outside the building or seeking out legislators at their homes. It doesn't minimize possible threats inside the capitol (which is already larded with armed troopers) to point out that all the examples being used to justify more invasive capitol security wouldn't have been prevented by the measures proposed.


Anonymous said...

If they decide to do this, they need to consult with El Al, and not the TSA.

Robert Langham said...

They can't help themselves from doing SOMETHING.

Robert Langham said...

Of course, if you were VOTING at the metal detectors and having to show your ID to get in........the democrats would bravely take a stand against it!

Anonymous said...

A good point, Robert. Getting back to airport-type security, El Al boasts a better than 97 percent success rate at weeding out security attacks. The reason is because they don't just look for bombs and weapons with scanners and X-ray machines. They have trained individuals who confront and question every passenger, and they make good use of profiling techniques.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@ 11:13/8:06, so y'all think DPS should "confront and question" everyone who enters the Texas capitol, profiling people the way El Al does in Israeli airports? That's easily the most ridiculous suggestion any commenter has made on this blog in 2010. However, the year is young yet.

People are so easily scared out of exercising their liberties it blows my mind. This is the friggin' STATE CAPITOL. The only reason you go there is to exercise your first amendment right to petition government. To have everyone go through airport-style security to enter is both ridiculously impractical and flies in the face of the historic culture and spirit of the institution. Besides, the place is already filled with armed DPS troopers who do a great job stopping any problems VERY quickly, in my experience.

Finally, when legislators are in town it's exceptionally easy to find them outside the capitol at bars, restaurants, apartments whose addresses are listed in state ethics forms, etc.. If somebody wants to shoot a legislator, there are many other ways to do it than showing up at the capitol with a gun, which is why focusing massive resources at one already well-protected site generates little marginal extra safety for the cost. That's especially true when you add in the massive inconvenience and degradation of the institutional culture.

Anonymous said...

Scott: My question would be twofold? 1.) What are other states doing, which by the way probably would not matter to the great thinkers in this legislature; 2.) What are the cost projections when at this time state agencies are once again being asked to reduce overall expenditures by 5% across the board and revenues are down?

Anonymous said...

I have no problem with being questioned as to what business I have entering the state capitol. As a matter of fact, I wish people in the state capitol would pay more attention to me than they do LOL!

The idea of assassinating legislators outside the capitol walls is not the SOP of a terrorist. It's about terrorism. They aren't nearly as interested in taking out lawmakers as they are making the public afraid of going inside public places.

Of course, you could just join the ranks of those poor grandparents who really think that taking off your orthopedic shoes and stepping in front of an X-ray machine to show off your "depends" will stop a terrorist attack.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

11:03, the Texas Tribune said 20 states use them, maybe more. Don't know about cost projections.

And to the 2nd 11:03, I don't think the guys threatening Carona or Patrick were "terrorists," just homegrown a-holes whose beef was politics made personal and had nothing to do with "making the public afraid of going inside public places."

If this were about Al Qaeda they'd have done this after 9/11, when the idea was seriously considered and discarded for a variety of very good reasons. The folks they're worried about being angry at them now are constituents, which is a whole different kettle of fish.

Anonymous said...

We've got to find some way to keep Al Qaeda and the lobbyists out of the capitol. It's bad enough that we've got politicians running in and out of there.

Anonymous said...

Grits said:
"The folks they're worried about being angry at them now are constituents, which is a whole different kettle of fish."

I think the Austin Kamikazi has shown that the home-grown A-holes are just as resourceful, if not more, than Al Qaeda. From my experience in the middle east, the local constituents would be much more dangerous than foreign terrorists, simply because they are familiar with the territory and the people. Lets' face it, if you're a home-grown redneck and really wanted to do some damage in the capitol, there are easier ways than trying to sneak in a gun. And, x-ray machines and metal detectors wouldn't be enough to stop you.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

That's exactly right, 1:26. Excellent point about the Austin kamikaze. Rednecks are more resourceful than they're given credit for.