UPDATED: Armed guards at city hall
Jane Prendergast reports:
Visitors to Cincinnati City Hall now have to pass armed security officers.
More than two years after Mayor Mark Mallory ordered metal detectors removed, security has been beefed up again. Councilwoman Laketa Cole asked for a security review, expressing concern for herself and her all-female staff in light of shootings last month at a council meeting in Kirkwood, Mo.
The city will pay $174,000 a year for the armed guards from Elite Protective Services, said Tiffaney Hardy, a city spokeswoman. The Roselawn company was hired as a subcontractor by a company that handles other city work, including cleaning. An additional $25,000 was allotted for possible overtime for night meetings, she said, and weekend events.
The guards, who started Monday, are the biggest change in security around the building since the 2006 shooting outside of activist Kabaka Oba helped prompt Mallory to hire a bodyguard. Council chambers were fitted with bullet-resistant paneling at about the same time. The paneling protects council members’ lower halves as they sit on the dais during meetings.
Cole specifically asked that officials consider re-installing the metal detectors taken out after Mallory took office in late 2005. Several council members, including John Cranley, Jeff Berding and Chris Bortz, expressed concern about that, saying they believe City Hall should remain as accessible and open as possible.
Bortz said Tuesday that he finds the guards more acceptable than metal detectors because “metal detectors send a different signal, a blockade.” He said he isn’t sure if members of the general public would notice that the new guards carry guns, compared with the check-in personnel, who didn’t.
“I think if someone wants to hurt someone in City Hall, they’re going to do it,” he said. “You always run the risk. But I trust the manager to make the best decision.”
Councilman John Cranley said he “didn’t see the need for a change” and would’ve voted against it if the idea had been put before council for a vote, but that he wasn’t “going to make a federal case out of it.” He said City Manager Milton Dohoney said he had the money in his budget to pay for the plan.
City spokeswoman Meg Olberding had said as recently as last week that no security decisions had been made, but that security was always under review.
Dohoney echoed part of that in his Monday memo to the mayor and council notifying them of the added guards: “The city of Cincinnati administration is continuously evaluating its security at city hall. Changes will be made whenever it is deemed appropriate.”
Employees still have to show their identification badges, and visitors still have to sign in for temporary badges.
Elite, based in Roselawn, has been in the news before. In 2003, the mayor’s brother, Dale Mallory, then president of the West End Community Council, wanted the city to give Elite a $10,000 contract to patrol the West End and cut down on crime there. That never happened.
Elite also has been among the agencies committed to becoming tenants in the proposed controversial CityLink, a mall of social services including medical services and job training. The project recently got a go-ahead from the 1st District Court of Appeals, which upheld a lower court’s order to force the city to issue the necessary zoning permit.
Elite founder and president Duane Weems did not return a phone call to talk about his company’s new work.
Elite’s Web site, www.eliteproservice.com, shows officers posing with Jerry Springer, Congresswoman Maxine Waters and Jamie Foxx. It also says a majority of Elite’s staff are police officers in various communities, meaning they have been trained and certified according to Ohio Police Officer Training Academy standards. It also says a majority of Elite’s staff are police officers in various communities, meaning they have been trained and certified according to Ohio Police Officer Training Academy standards.