Police, security measures often present at local gov't meetings

By Tom Lehman 6:54pm, August 6, 2013 - Updated 11:39am, August 7, 2013
Newark Municipal Building at 220 South Main St./WDEL File.
There's often security precautions and police present at local and county in place at legislative meetings to prevent potential violence against the public and legislators.

WDEL's Tom Lehman has more.

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In Newark, police officers were often not present at city council meetings until roughly four months ago, after a council member requested their presence for those gatherings.

Although Mayor Vance Funk says the measure is often unnecessary, he says it's a vital precaution that can prevent situations like the fatal shooting at the municipal building in Ross Township in Monroe County, Pa. Monday night.

Pennsylvania State Police say an officer was not present when a man feuding with town officials killed three people before he was tackled to the ground.

"It's a different environment now," says Newark Mayor Vance Funk. "I think especially now, when we have contentious meetings coming up, it's important to have an officer there."

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Funk also says it's advantageous that the police department and council chambers share a building, which allows for a quick response time if an emergency occurs. City officials are also considering security improvements at the municipal building, but visitors are not screened or required to walk through a metal detector.

Earlier this year, state lawmakers approved $1.5 million in funding for increased security at the New Castle County Courthouse in Wilmington, where a gunman killed his former daughter in law, another woman and himself in February.

At New Castle County Council meetings in Wilmington, a police officer is regularly in attendance at meetings, which bolsters security already present in the Louis L. Redding City/County Building. Visitors are required to pass through a metal detector and have their bags screened by an x-ray scanner before they are granted access to the building.

Senior Lt. Pat Crowell, a county police spokesman, says officers have not often been required to intervene during meetings. He cited the removal of Occupy Delaware members who were demonstrating during a council meeting as one of the most recent examples of such action.

"Sometimes there's a lot of hot-button issues, but

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there to let the elected officials and those that elected them to conduct their business and do what's best for the county," Krowell says.

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Middletown police officers are also frequently present at town council meetings and conduct presentations on monthly crime statistics and public safety information.

Wilmington police say officers generally do not attend council meetings unless an item on the agenda is related to the department or its personnel.

However, council spokesman John Rago notes that visitors must walk through metal detectors when entering the City/County building, which is shared by Wilmington and New Castle County.

Officers allocated to Mayor Williams' security detail have also reportedly responded to disturbances in the City/County building.

Rago says council can request police officers to be present during a council meeting if necessary.

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