It’s an unfortunate reality of American life. Because we never know when or where senseless acts of violence may play out, security measures are increasingly necessary. We’ve become wearily accustomed to metal detectors, sign-in stations or purse and bag checks at airports, schools, arenas, concerts — and even some places of worship.
Government offices, which should be safe gathering spaces for doing the people’s business, are also at risk. That’s why Minneapolis officials should consider stronger security at City Hall. Eighth Ward Councilwoman Andrea Jenkins rightly raised security concerns during a recent council meeting. She told her fellow council members and a journalist that she fears for her own safety and for the safety of others.
Noting that some who attend council meetings are emotional and angry, she cited a recent meeting in which a group of protesters rushed the dais and held up a large banner. Council members have been shouted down at meetings. And late last month, 12 people were killed by a city employee at a municipal building in Virginia Beach, Va.
The center of Minneapolis city government fills an entire city block and is not connected to other buildings by skyway. Officers patrol the building 24 hours a day, and there is a security desk inside the 4th Street entrance. But other points of entry open to the public are not covered.
“Anybody can walk into City Hall at any time without any sort of search. Nobody has to sign in. We don’t even know who’s coming into the building,” Jenkins told the Star Tribune. “It’s very unnerving.”
In some parts of the facility, a closer eye is kept on who comes and goes. The century-old building houses the administrative offices of the Minneapolis Police Department and the Hennepin County sheriff. Visitors must be buzzed into those areas and are seen by officers before going into individual offices. The Hennepin County Government Center, home to district courts and other county offices across the street, has metal detectors. Across the river, St. Paul’s City Hall shares a building with the Ramsey County courthouse, so all visitors must go through security screening. And around the country, many municipal offices have heightened security.
As Jenkins and other Minneapolis officials noted, the right balance must be struck between safety and maintaining access to the public, taxpayer-supported building. Security will be tighter in a new municipal building that will open next year, but additional security measures should be considered at City Hall in response to Jenkins’ plea.
As much as we’d like the city’s seat of operations to be open and welcoming, the real possibilities of violence cannot be ignored. Like many other places where large groups of people gather, Minneapolis’ government center should take additional measures to protect city workers and visitors.