Monday, September 24, 2001
New Measures Make Civic Center Safer Than Ever Before, Officials Say
By KIMBERLY EDDS, Staff Writer
City, county and federal court officials Friday said citizens visiting the Civic Center should feel safer today than they did before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 because of new security measures at public buildings.
All city and county security forces were beefed up after the attacks and continue to be on a heightened state of alert.
Security officers at City Hall worked 12-hour shifts seven days a week in the days immediately following the terrorist attacks, and the county’s Office of Public Safety police officers were also working overtime to ensure safety at public buildings, officials said.
“I think with the level of security in place people are substantially safer than they were in the past,” city Department of General Services Assistant General Manager Tony DeClue said. “You identify the risks, understand them and put a security plan into place that addresses them. We think we’ve done that.”
Also as a safety precaution, security officers closed the commercial garage and underground shopping area adjacent to City Hall for a brief time and several underground entrances to city buildings remain closed.
In the wake of the attacks, the city insisted on employees wearing their ID cards at all times. Visitors must now sign in and show a photo ID before they are given a visitor badge, a mandate which has been followed without complaint, DeClue said.
Roving security patrols are enforcing the new rules and people without identification will be questioned about their business in City Hall, DeClue said.
The county police force, which is responsible for securing 126 county parks, mental health facilities, county hospitals, the department of Social Services, the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration and the Hall of Records, does not have any such identification restrictions in place, Asst. Chief John White said.
County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke is expected to introduce a motion at tomorrow’s meeting that would require all county employees to wear their ID badges at all times.
A spokesman for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority said the department is on a “heightened state of alert” and security personnel are receiving ongoing training on how to deal with credible threats and suspicious packages.
The MTA has three rail lines and nearly 2,000 buses a day doing business in the county, with many of the busiest routes running around-the-clock, spokesman Ed Skannell said.
The Los Angeles Police Department handles MTA security on buses and the Metro Red Line that run within Los Angeles city limits. The Sheriff’s Department handles buses in the rest of the county and the Metro Blue Line and Metro Green Line light rail systems.
Skannell said both agencies employ plain and uniformed officers that ride the public transportation to provide extra security in addition to officers and deputies at rail stations.
“Anyone who rides our system and doesn’t see a uniformed officer shouldn’t assume law enforcement officers aren’t aboard,” Skannell said.
Skannell added that the MTA’s rail operations control center in Willowbrook constantly monitors station security cameras.
In addition, Skannell said the MTA benefits from the fact the LAPD and the Sheriff’s Department have active anti-terrorist groups and are able to share information about activities with law enforcement agencies across the country.
“We have a great deal of information that we are fully aware of,” Skannell said.
More pressing security issues have diverted a number of federal security officers from U.S. District Courts in the Central District to Los Angeles International Airport and other local airports, but security at the two downtown courthouses is still tighter than ever before, U.S. District Judge Terry Hatter Jr. said.
Federal courthouses were closed the day of the attacks and the following day as a safety precaution, one that Hatter heartily agrees with.
“They were striking at symbols of our democracy and our nation,” Hatter said. “I’ve always seen the independent judiciary as the backbone of our democracy and I think it’s seen that way around the world.”
Hatter stepped down from his post as chief judge last week.
Los Angeles Schools Police Chief Wesley Mitchell said the Los Angeles Unified School District is revisiting security measures at the public school board meetings in order to protect participants, but he said he didn’t see district buildings as being high-value targets for international terrorists.
But in the event that something did happen, Mitchell said, the district is prepared to transport and house students overnight if need be, a plan that has proven successful during several earthquakes and the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
Officials at the LAUSD say they feel confident that their current disaster plans are sufficient, but the police department did have extended patrol watches for the two days after the attacks as an extra precaution.
The Los Angeles Public Library system has also stepped up awareness, paying closer attention to what people are bringing into the library and asking more questions, library security Chief Ernest Love said.
Love said the staff was restricted in how much action they can take in searching items without probable cause, but he said they will continue to ask questions about suspicious items and continue to have a higher profile with their roving security patrols.
“We’re not using Gestapo tactics right now, but we are enforcing the large bags issue,” Central Library security officer William Morris said, referring to the restriction the library has always had on oversized bag.
Love said he wants people to enjoy coming to the library and not have to be assaulted by overbearing security.
“This is a safe haven and a place of relaxing,” Love said.
In response to added security concerns, the city’s General Services Department is currently lobbying the City Council’s Information, Technology & General Services Committee for $3.3 million to enhance security at City Hall and its surrounding buildings, which would include increasing security personnel and surveillance.
The city is also in the final stages of installing metal detectors inside of historic City Hall, with completion expected next month.
There has been some concern about protecting the historic atmosphere of the newly renovated building, but those concerns will not interfere with protecting citizens, David Gershwin, spokesman for City Council President Alex Padilla, said.
“I think it is advisable that metal detectors be an almost basic feature of a public facility,” Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, chair of the ITG Committee, said.
The exact location of the metal detectors is still being debated, he said.
City offices are not restricted to City Hall. City employees work in offices on Figueroa and Spring Street and elsewhere around downtown.
Government and court officials said the response to the increased security and access restrictions have been met with understanding and compliance.
While the county buildings are public places, White says he doesn’t see people being resistant to any increased security.
“People have a concern when they come to public buildings these days, but they understand the added security once they understand it’s for their own good,” White said.
Hatter said he wasn’t sure if the nation would have the will to finance the increased security or the desire to compromise our freedoms in return for more security.
“Obviously this is a catalyst to bring our nation together, but how long will we be willing to give up certain freedoms which we enjoy?” Hatter said.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company