As a black transgender woman, Minneapolis City Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins already felt exposed in the public eye when she was sworn in last year.
Last month, she was shaken when a group of protesters rushed the dais and unfurled a large banner during a council meeting. Then came the mass shooting May 31 that left 12 dead at a municipal building in Virginia Beach, Va.
Now Jenkins says it’s time to institute security measures at City Hall, where people now come and go without any screening.
“We have to have some level of security and comfort that we can come to work and not be victims to violence,” she said last week.
Jenkins’ appeal for increased security echoes the conversation happening in local government offices around the country in an era of all-too-common mass shootings.
“Our staff as well as the public that enters this building deserves to be protected,” Jenkins said during Friday’s council meeting. “I think we need more security in this facility.”
More than a century old and known for its soaring clock tower, Minneapolis City Hall takes up an entire block downtown and houses the council chambers, offices for the mayor and City Council, police headquarters, the Hennepin sheriff and more. Officers patrol the building 24 hours a day, and there is a security desk inside the 4th Street entrance.
Lax security ‘unnerving’
In an interview Friday, Jenkins said the city could put security guards at several entry points in the building, install metal detectors similar to those at the Hennepin County Government Center across the street and have some form of sign-in method “at least so we know who’s entering into the building.”
“Anybody can walk into City Hall at anytime without any sort of search. Nobody has to sign in. We don’t even know who’s coming into the building,” she said. “It’s very unnerving.”
By contrast, St. Paul’s City Hall shares a building with the Ramsey County courthouse, so all visitors must go through security screening.
Minneapolis City Hall is managed by the Municipal Building Commission, a board consisting of local and county officials. City Council Member Lisa Goodman, who serves on the board, said when it comes to security, the city needs to ensure safety while also respecting people’s right to access the building.
“I want to make sure that people can continue to do that and feel welcome in doing that, and not be treated as though they could potentially pose a threat,” she said. “I don’t want us to present as an unfriendly or unwelcoming environment.”
People are often emotional or angry when they come to the building, and there have been times during her 20 years at City Hall where she has felt unsafe, Goodman said. She said she would like to learn about different options to improve security in the building.
“If Andrea feels or any of my colleagues feel their security is at risk, it’s an issue,” she said.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, who also serves on the commission, said it is still too early to know whether significant security updates will be made to the building.
“There’s always room for improvement, of course. Everyone deserves to feel safe in their place of employment,” he said. “City Hall should be no exception.”
New Hope shooting
On the afternoon of May 31, a city employee walked into a municipal building in Virginia Beach, Va., and opened fire on all three floors, killing 12. He was later shot dead by responding officers.
The Virginia Beach facility was open to the public, but passes are required to enter office spaces and other rooms.
The shooting hit close to home for John Elder, spokesman for the Minneapolis Police Department and a New Hope City Council member.
In 2015, a 68-year-old man walked into the lobby of New Hope City Hall and opened fire, wounding two officers before he was killed by return fire. A City Council meeting was underway at the time. Council members ducked behind the dais, and Elder took out his handgun.
Since that incident, Elder has talked about safety in council chambers and participated in active-shooter trainings with city officials. This summer, New Hope employees are expected to move into a new municipal building with “forward-thinking” security measures.
“I applaud Council Vice President Jenkins for her foresight in this,” he said. “We owe it to our employees to keep them safe.”
Next year, a new municipal building will open across the street from City Hall. That building will have tighter security, Goodman said, including fewer entry points, and bollards to keep vehicles from crashing through.
Like Goodman, Jenkins acknowledged the city must walk a fine line between maintaining safety and making sure the building remains accessible and welcoming to all residents.
“But, you know, we’re in the 21st century. They continue to ignore making more regulations around gun ownership,” Jenkins said. “Until that happens, we have to take measures to protect ourselves.”