Archive for Thursday, February 14, 2008

Baldwin City officials eye shootings, too

February 14, 2008

Last week's deadly shootings at a city council meeting in Kirkwood, Mo., has local officials talking about security.

Charles Thornton, a Missouri man with a long history of run-ins with the Kirkwood City Council, shot and killed five people at last Thursday's meeting and wounded several others before being fatally shot.

Baldwin City Council members and City Administrator Jeff Dingman watched the news unfold with even greater interest than most residents.

"I told Diane this morning that could happen anywhere easily," said Council Member Ken Wagner Friday, referring to his wife Diane. "I am thinking it wouldn't be a bad idea to have a uniformed police officer at the council meetings. I plan on talking to Jeff (Dingman) about that.

"You don't know how certain people react to high utility bills, zoning issues, fire department issues, etc.," said Wagner. "You never know."

Council President Amy Cleavinger is resigned to the fact that there isn't much that can be done to prevent such situations.

"I don't know what the answer is," said Cleavinger. "If someone has their mind made up to do something like this, the steps you would have to take to stop them would be pretty extreme and I don't know that we're willing to take it that far.

"How do you make it 'safe,' but still 'open and inviting' to the public?" she said.

Dingman has seen security measures used where he's previously been employed, but doesn't know if that's necessary here.

"I don't know what to say," said Dingman. "Security issues are always a concern at City Hall, the police department and, as it happens, city council meetings and even municipal court. You never know what might set somebody off.

"You try and evaluate your risk, and so far it seems that we're pretty much a low-risk entity," he said. "Staff and city council get into some tough decision making situations and some of them might negatively impact an individual's plans or desires, but the truth is you don't know what will push someone over that edge."

Currently, security at council meetings comes from the Baldwin City Police Department, usually from Police Chief Mike McKenna.

"As far as our council meetings, the chief is generally there or sends someone in his stead," said Dingman. "There is a bailiff and generally an officer or two around for municipal court, which probably has more potential for disorderly behavior."

In many public places across the country, security measures - such as metal detectors - have been installed. Dingman doesn't see that happening here.

"It is tough to justify spending a bunch of money on security measures for admission to public facilities, especially public meetings," he said. "How hard do you make it for people to gain access to their government? How much money do you spend buying equipment or paying for manpower to provide some measure of security?

"Every place is different and you would think the smaller the organization, the less need there would be for something like that," said Dingman. "But, as evident by (the Kirkwood) event, you just never know."

While there are unknowns about what to do to avoid violent situations, he did have the over-riding feeling of city officials contacted.

"It's just a sad thing, that event in Kirkwood," said Dingman.

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