County Commission looks at posting guards at meetings

A deadly federal courthouse shooting and threats against a Clark County commissioner have prompted county officials to pursue plans for stationing two armed security guards at commission meetings.

The guards would be used during the commission's four main meeting days each month at a cost of roughly $40,000 a year.

They could be brought in as soon as next month, either from a private security company or the Metropolitan Police Department.

The county is the only major jurisdiction in the Las Vegas Valley with no armed guards at its public meetings.

County Manager Virginia Valentine ordered staffers to explore stepping up security after a Jan. 4 shootout at the federal courthouse that left a guard and the assailant dead.

Since then, Commissioner Steve Sisolak has received threats for lambasting firefighters' wages and benefits as too costly. Armed guards would act as a deterrent and help ensure the safety of everyone at meetings, he said.

"Emotions are running extremely high right now," Sisolak said. "It only takes one unstable person."

Last month, Las Vegas city firefighter Joy Sager posted on a Facebook page that she wanted to shoot Sisolak in the groin because he criticized firefighters for participating in a charitable drive while on the clock. City officials said they investigated the matter and could say nothing other than Sager still works for the city.

The county will hold off on installing metal detectors at commission meetings because the staff and equipment would be costly in the current budget situation, said Randy Tarr, who was director of the county's real property management until he was promoted to assistant county manager last week .

The county faces a $57 million shortfall and must trim labor costs either by laying off workers or reducing wages and benefits.

"To secure it like a courthouse, it would cost $2 million," Tarr said. "But that's not the direction we want to go."

Four guards would be needed to scan visitors with hand-held wands, Tarr said. He will recommend to Valentine that the county employ two guards.

Tarr noted that one or two unarmed security guards now are used for crowd control at meetings.

It's almost impossible to prevent a determined shooter from firing a gun in a public place, but armed guards would react more effectively to any violence, Tarr said.

The cities of Las Vegas, Henderson and North Las Vegas have uniformed guards who carry guns at council meetings. Henderson and Las Vegas require attendees to pass through metal detectors.

County Commissioner Susan Brager said she wants the county eventually to set up metal detectors.

Her recent vote to let developer Jim Rhodes apply for denser housing atop Blue Diamond Hill near Red Rock Canyon drew heated e-mails. None of them was an outright threat, but a couple made her uneasy, she said.

"Unfortunately we live in a little bit of an angry society," Brager said.

Commissioner Tom Collins said county officials have discussed adding armed guards for a long time. He said he would defer to the county manager on heightening security.

"If Virginia has a plan, I would support it," Collins said.

But Commissioner Larry Brown opposed hiring guards. The county is struggling to pay for the University Medical Center and social services amid a severe budget shortfall, he said.

"We can't afford to do it," Brown said. "There are more needs the county has right now than hiring armed security guards for meetings."

Beefing up security at the government center, which houses the commission chambers, is difficult because it was built with a more open and accessible design in the days before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Tarr said.

The chambers alone have several entrances, including three from the main hallway, he said. The building has array of doorways that would make it expensive to secure like an airport.

Still, the county is looking into federal grants that could aid in a more extensive upgrade, Tarr said.

Sisolak said he has mixed feelings about putting metal detectors at the front entrance because it would clog up the corridor. Two armed security guards are a reasonable start, he said.

"I don't know how far you need to go," Sisolak said. "Let's try this and see how it goes."

Contact reporter Scott Wyland at or 702-455-4519.