State security issues discussed

CARSON CITY — State legislators and most constitutional officers in Nevada receive no police or security protection outside of the Capitol, Legislative or Supreme Court buildings in Carson City or the Sawyer Building in Las Vegas.

People are not frisked or made to go through a metal detector before they enter these or other state government buildings in the capital complex.

The talk of adding more security measures at the Legislature and Capitol started anew Monday after an attacker shot and wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and shot and killed six others at a public event the Arizona Democrat was holding outside a Safeway supermarket in Tucson, Ariz., on Saturday.

Gov. Brian Sandoval’s press secretary, Mary-Sarah Kinner, said Monday that administration officials have been reviewing security procedures for the Capitol, and the Tucson incident will be considered as they make final decisions.

The governor is the only state constitutional officer or legislator who regularly is assigned a police officer for protection. Last month, the state approved the hiring of two additional police officers to protect Sandoval and his family. There also is 24-hour police protection at the Governor’s Mansion.

Sandoval administration officials last week announced they have rejected a request by news reporters to release a schedule in advance of the public events the governor would attend, citing security concerns from the Department of Public Safety.

But business clubs and organizations where the governor or legislators are scheduled to meet usually publicize their appearances in advance in hopes of attracting more people.

For example, the Legislature itself sent out a news release Monday inviting people to attend Jan. 29 town hall meetings in Reno and Las Vegas where legislators will talk about Sandoval’s proposed budget.

A metal detector was set up briefly in the summer in the Capitol after Gov. Jim Gibbons received a strange but nonthreatening message from a group calling for a return to constitutional principles. It since has been removed.

Boulders also were placed in front of all entrances of the Capitol at that time. They were pushed away from entrances — but not removed — for Sandoval’s inauguration Jan. 3, but were returned by Monday.

Huge planters and a clock were placed in front of the main entrance to the Legislative Building more than a decade ago after a Carson City cabdriver who police said was suicidal crashed his vehicle into the entrance. The planters and clock were designed to prevent someone from driving a car into the building.

Legislative police — many who are retired detectives from the Los Angeles and other police departments — are posted at the Legislative Building’s entrance. They decide whether people should be searched. They also are posted at the entrance to the Capitol.

When he served in the Legislature, former state Sen. Tom Hickey, D-North Las Vegas, filed a police report that he had been beaten up outside the Legislative Building more than a decade ago. Other legislators have reported they were threatened over controversial legislation.

Former Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins, D-Henderson, and former Assemblyman Lynn Hettrick, R-Gardnerville, had permits to carry concealed weapons and did early in the last decade.

People also can walk into the Supreme Court Building unfettered, although police are stationed in an office near the entrance.

But people who want to attend actual court hearings must go through metal detectors. The justices’ offices are on upper floors and cannot be reached by elevators without assistance from police.

A police officer also is posted at the front of the attorney general’s office, but other state buildings in Carson City are readily accessible to pedestrians.

Even with the planters, Legislative Counsel Bureau administrator Lorne Malkiewich said in response to questions that there is nothing that would stop a determined person in a big truck from smashing into the building.

A legislative leader said Monday that there is little that can be done to guarantee complete safety for legislators.

"I know there are concerns, but I am not sure added security is what we should do," said Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness, R-Fallon. "It would put a damper on people coming to testify."

McGinness said it would be costly and virtually impossible to have police or security guards constantly stay with legislators — most who work at private jobs outside of the 120-day, every-other-year legislative sessions.

"I grew up in Fallon," said McGinness, who has received death threats. "I sell radio advertising. I am out in the community all the time. People know where I go to coffee. It is very difficult to stop these kind of things (Giffords’ shooting) especially with a lone wolf type guy."

"We are a very open state," added Malkiewich. "It is easy to access legislators.

Malkiewich said that before each session, legislative leaders meet with him and Capitol police to discuss whether to activate the metal detectors they purchased a few years ago, or to beef up security. He had not talked with them since the shooting in Tucson.

One statewide elected official, who asked not to be identified, said he was concerned about the news media mentioning that most state officials go without security protection.

Also, Steve George, chief of staff for state Treasurer Kate Marshal, said the treasurer never has police protection when she makes a speech or attends an event.

George said that when he worked for Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa, he would send out news releases inviting anyone to attend her events.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.

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