JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – In June, the Missouri Legislature voted that, as of July 1st, it will no longer allocate funding to Capitol Police nor any other security personnel to monitor the metal detectors at the visitor entrance to the Capitol building. In doing so, the funding for Capitol security measures were specifically restricted so that the public could enter the building without going through the metal detectors. At the same time, funds were appropriated so the Capitol police could hire five additional officers specifically for “saturation patrols,” which entails patrolling the hallways, but does not include monitoring the metal detectors.
On Tuesday however, Office of Administration Commissioner Sarah Steelman spoke with Elliot Davis of Fox 2, and confirmed that Capitol visitors “will have to go through metal detectors.” Davis asked Steelman, who has been been forced to carry water for the administration on the metal detectors for months, about whether the public should be required to go through the metal detectors based on the budget that was passed. She said, “the legislature gave an appropriation to the Department of Public Safety for additional Capitol security guards, which will be stationed at the metal detectors.”
Her comments contradict Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, Chair of the House Budget committee, who shaped the specific allocations in the Missouri budget. “There was an appropriation for 5 additional Capitol police officers. The intention was for those officers to saturate the hallways and have an increased presence on every floor of the Capitol,” he said, “There was no appropriation for the security [contractors].”
Currently, the Capitol hires independent contractors to man the metal detectors while police are stationed near the entrances and exits. Because the metal detectors are by the entrances to the Capitol, the police and contractors are in the same location, but do not serve the same function. Steelman’s comments raise questions as to how the contractors are being paid, whether Capitol police has misappropriated funds by hiring officers or contractors to do a job they are not intended to do, and whether the public should still have to go through the metal detectors.
Mike O’Connell, Director of Communications at the Missouri Department of Public Safety, was not aware of any procedural differences of how the metal detectors were to be managed since the budget was passed. “ I know there are metal detectors there and there are security measures in place, utilizing them – just as there have been in the past… I’m not aware of how [the 2017 budget] in any way affected the procedure as far as security goes, now.”
It is still unclear as to how the contractors are being paid. It is still unclear as to whether Capitol police will be hiring officers to be taking over for those jobs. For O’Connell, what is clear is that the job will be done. For him, as long as the security measures in place, the minute specifications for Capitol police come second.
“The metal detectors are in place [and] the system is being utilized. We don’t get into get into the details of specific security measures, other than to say that we adapt and adjust to whatever the conditions are to provide security to people who work in that building, the legislators, and to the general public,” O’Connell said.
In Davis’ coverage, Steelman says the Missourians want the metal detectors, despite the legislature’s decision. Specifically, Davis asked her whether the legislature had changed their minds and allowed for either contractors to be paid or for police to be hired to take over their position. She said, “That’s not what everybody was saying… The public won out because we were making sure that the Capitol is safe for the public.”
Rep. Kurt Bahr told the Missouri Times in June that “The inconvenience of the metal detectors is just extreme.” Bahr said. “My office window is right outside on the second floor where most of the visitors come in, and so when I was at the Capitol, I just saw lines of school kids waiting in the cold, waiting in the rain, waiting in the sun, waiting to come into a building that had forever been an open building. It’s just a terrible idea to say we’re going to process these people through metal detectors when having a couple of cops will do a better job providing security.”
Michael Layer is a reporter for the Missouri Times and the Missouri Times Magazine. He joined the Missouri Times in August 2017 after graduating from Goucher College the previous May. To contact Michael, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @_MichaelLayer