Dayton Orders Review Of Minn. Capitol Safeguards

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Gov. Mark Dayton and top lawmakers initiated a review of Minnesota Capitol security Monday in response to a mass shooting in Arizona that critically injured a member of Congress as she met with constituents.

Dayton ordered his chief of staff to go over safety measures and gather input from security officials and others who use the Capitol. But Dayton, a Democrat only a week into his term, said he is confident that the review will show current security is “very sound.”

“A violent act of extremism — whether it’s politically motivated or not — is something we will guard against with every reasonable precaution while at the same time recognizing that it’s imperative that the public have free access to proceedings,” Dayton said.

Visitors don’t pass through metal detectors, but there are security cameras around the building and armed personnel roaming the halls while the Legislature is in session. Dayton said he doesn’t favor adding metal detectors to Capitol entrances.

Dayton caused a stir last week when he allowed dozens of protesters into a news conference in his office suite and even turned the microphone over to them. He said he would have no qualms about doing it again.

On Saturday, six people died and more were injured when a gunman opened fire outside a Tucson supermarket where Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was holding a community forum. Giffords, a Democrat, was shot in the head and remains hospitalized.

Dayton made his remarks after gathering staff for a moment of silence. He ordered state flags flying over state buildings lowered to half-staff until Friday.

Security at the Capitol complex has been under scrutiny for years. State office buildings and the headquarters for Minnesota’s judiciary ring the Capitol.

In 2009, the legislative auditor issued a report warning of “significant security vulnerabilities.” The auditor raised worries about security staffing levels, the absence of weapons screening and the lack of a cohesive emergency plan.

Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, said the auditor’s findings will be part of a new review of security. Like Dayton, she expressed concern about going too far.

“We’d like to keep this the people’s house,” Koch said. “We’d like to keep this friendly and welcoming.”

House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, urged the creation of a task force to come up with security recommendations.

Rich Neumeister, a frequent Capitol visitor, said the security discussion should be conducted publicly. Neumeister, who often speaks out about government transparency, said Minnesota has an “open-door culture that should not be undermined in a process or review without public input.”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

WCCO-TV’s Pat Kessler Reports


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