Thursday, February 25, 2010

DPS plan would put x-rays, metal detectors at Texas capitol entrances

Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw told the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee earlier this month that DPS plans to put metal detectors and X-Ray machines at the entrances to the state capitol to aid in "gun detection." DPS solicited a security review from the US Secret Service and is in the process of updating legislative leadership on the plan.

This idea was considered and discarded after 9/11, but has apparently been revived after a man fired off gunshots outside the capitol in January after an argument with state Sen. Dan Patrick's staffers.

I've long considered the Texas Legislature one of the most "little d" democratic political institutions in the country, and a big part of what makes that true is the ability for average citizens to move freely around the capitol.

After 9/11, the Austin city council turned their offices into their own little fortress, installing metal detectors and ceasing the longstanding practice of allowing constituents to go directly to councilmembers' offices to talk to staff, the councilmember, etc.. The result was to make them much less accessible, more insular, and ultimately IMO more aloof and full of themselves. The physical infrastructure created to protect these "important people" more than the rest of us had an unintended side effect on officeholders and staff, creating an even more significant psychological distance from constituents than the physical one. The change dramatically altered the culture at city hall, very much for the worse as far as I'm concerned.

I'd very much prefer not to see that happen to the Texas state capitol.

Last session, DPS operated metal detectors going into the balconies in the Texas House and Senate chambers respectively. At times it created significant logistical problems, not just from long lines to get into the gallery, but because there are actually offices on the other side of the chambers. In at least one instance to which I was privy, the long wait to get through security actually bogged up time-sensitive legislative communications related to the innocence compensation bill. How much more frequently will that happen when everyone entering the capitol must go through the equivalent of airport security lines?

In this case the shooter fired off shots outside the capitol. Wouldn't he have more targets if there's a huge gaggle of people waiting at the door to get through the metal detector?

For that matter, most of these legislators (including Sen. Patrick) claim to be pro-Second Amendment and supportive of the right to bear arms. How does that jibe with rhetoric about the need for "gun detection," as though a gun is some scary bogeyman, even in the hands of the law abiding? How well will that message play, one wonders, with NRA members in Republican primaries?

There are plenty of armed troopers and cops at the capitol at any given moment (and often even one or two armed legislators!), plus committee chairmen can already request security at hearings if they think there's a risk. I'd much rather see them beef up staffing for capitol security than waste every visitor's time (including busloads of schoolchildren, tourists, countless lobbyists, etc.) with metal detectors, X-rays, taking off their belts and shoes, etc..

Even better: Maybe if legislators are concerned about security they should use some of their campaign funds to send themselves and their staff through the necessary training to get their concealed carry permits.

But for heaven's sake, state officials shouldn't let either fear or an overblown sense of self-importance spur security measures that degrade the fundamental culture of the institution. It's important to protect legislators, but we hold elections every two years precisely to remind each of them that they're replaceable. It's not their capitol, it's ours.


Anonymous said...

I have an idea. Why don't we house the lege in the prisons they are closing? They'll be safe there.

doran said...

How will the Commissioner of The General Land Office get in when this goes into effect, to address the Lege?

Your suggestion about Members and staff getting carry permits, if acted upon, could have some significant unintended consequences.

Anonymous said...

I object. My objection will be ignored by my retiring rep and by my well fed by out of state interests senator. When this security theater production starts my visits to the capitol will end.

Anonymous said...

I have an idea, get the idiots from TDCJ to man the machines. ROFLMAO! Is this a joke? DPS? The same morons on duty when the Governors Mansion burned down? God Help Texas!

Anonymous said...

Excellent post Scott!

Retired 2004

Adrenolize said...

Anon 1:32 -

Why don't you come up with some good ideas? Hmmm. Perhaps you could stand up and help the security atmosphere before throwing mud at those who would be your first call if you are in need?

So there was a hole in the security at the Governor's Mansion. I'm sure that has been addressed. However, the incessant whining and pointing of fingers by the likes of you is resulting in fortification.

What else would you have DPS do? You mock them for higher security, but would do so more loudly if next month some one started shooting inside one of the buildings.

You wonder why police are so cynical these days! Perhaps it is those of you who cannot be pleased demand more and more while striking at the very honor of those willing to do the job.

Hook Em Horns said...

Adrenolize said...

You wonder why police are so cynical these days!
What? Wonder or care about why the po po is cynical? WHO CARES? THEY WORK FOR US and if they aren't up to the task, and I would suggest DPS has some SERIOUS problems, the lets get rid of them and get some new cops!