Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Either staff metal detectors at capitol entrances or discard them

The Texas capitol was swamped with visitors yesterday but, inexplicably, there is still only one metal detector being operated at each of the four public entrances, resulting in large, backed-up crowds waiting to get in. At each security checkpoint, one or two more metal detectors stand idle while three staffers, including two uniformed DPS troopers, stand by to monitor bags in the X-ray and pass a wand over any unfortunate, harried soul at whom the machine beeps.

When one asks why they don't operate the dormant metal detectors to process the backed up crowds more quickly, one is told DPS doesn't have sufficient staff to cover the others. Of course, DPS is sending hundreds of troopers to the border for our pointless "surge." (Gov. Abbott yesterday said he wants to add 500 to their number and triple the amount spent on that misbegotten misadventure.) So there's money available for troopers when it's a priority. Plus, I'm not sure why the job requires state troopers, anyway;  a trained chimp could operate the wand.

To make matters more absurd, there are Texas prison units which do not have metal detectors at their entrances. If DPS isn't going to staff the extras in the capitol, maybe they should send them to TDCJ!

For generations before 2010 there was no metal detector or bag searches when you entered the Texas capitol, day or night, either in session or in the off season, and I for one considered it a point of pride. (BTW, let me renew Grits' kudos to former Governor Perry for voting against their installation at the time.) The security protocols for visitors at capitol entrances, to me, seem cowardly, wasteful and, increasingly, impractical. They were created to combat an over-hyped threat - inflated egos aside, most of our state politicians aren't really important enough to shoot - and now the blockade remains up more out of habit than real concern.

The State Preservation Board should either fully staff metal detectors at capitol entrances or get rid of them altogether. Personally, I don't believe Texans or legislators would be one iota less safe in their capitol if they decided to go the latter route.


Phelps said...

If you are elected to the lege by the People, and your actions there make the People so angry that they come there to shoot you, the problem is the actions you took, not the People.

sunray's wench said...

Which TDCJ units don't have metal detectors at their entrances?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@sunray, I don't have a list but a few years ago when phone contraband problems were at their height, the agency installed metal detectors at the units where the problem was worst, but my recollection was that they didn't have resources to install them everywhere. E.g., in 2011 the Back Gate noted that in response to contraband problems, "walk through metal detectors and X-ray machines ... were added at several TDCJ facilities." At one point, a legislative committee was told there were metal detectors at 22 units; I don't have a current count.

Susan Hays said...

Several years ago I went to a unit in Lovelady to view a crime scene with some other lawyers and a blood splatter expert. It was winter. I was wearing a long duster coat and cowboy boots. The only "security" was a guard in tower who lowered a bucket on a string for us to drop our IDs and bar cards in. A bucket on a string! No metal detector. I could have had a bowie knife one boot and a pistol in the other. I was in free contact with prisoners walking around inside. I asked the IA officer who was babysitting us about the lack of cameras at the dark hall where a guard was beaten half to death. The answer: plenty of money for bricks and mortar. None for security. It was and is absurd and a wildly unsafe
working environment for the guards.

sunray's wench said...

There have been a lot of cameras installed in units over the past couple of years.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

sw, the Lege gave TDCJ $10 million in each of the last three biennia to add cameras. I heard them talking about it in a budget hearing yesterday. It sounded like it was for surveillance cameras, though, not metal detectors, xrays, etc..

Anonymous said...

My son was recently beaten at the Hughes Unit - once by inmates, once by the guards. Cameras captured neither episode. that is, according to TDC (no J in that department)

Anonymous said...

It would be nice if they would send those 500 DPS officers to work at the TDCJ units to cover staffing shortages and add those 4,000 border cameras to cover the prisons that are controlled by prison gangs.

Policy makers are ignorant to the fact the real cartels north of the border are Texas prison gangs who control the drugs in all the major Texas cities.

The Legislature has screwed up priorities, they can't secure Texas prisons and they expect to secure the border?

sunray's wench said...

At least one Tennessee Colony unit has security cameras installed in a variety of areas. The layout of the prisons means that not every inch of space can be covered adequately though, I would assume. I also wonder about the technology being used; it would be sensible for the footage to be digitally captured and sent via cloud technology to a central location to be reviewed and stored. Keeping it on tape at the individual units means the opportunity for misuse is much greater, and tapes get lost or wiped.

On a side note, now that we are screened thoroughly inside and out before entering certain units, why do we still have to sit opposite the inmates? So many positive things could be done to improve visitation in TDC (I agree Anon, no J there).