Political leaders ponder security after Arizona shootings
ST. PAUL -- Bill Ingebrigtsen knows as much about security as any Minnesota lawmaker, and he wants the state Capitol to remain easily accessible to the public even after Saturday's Arizona shooting of a congresswoman.
"We have to keep it open around here," the Republican state senator from Alexandria said Monday.
Ingebrigtsen said that security officials may need more training to spot potential troublemakers and the courts should screen people headed into courtrooms, but the former sheriff did not want drastic changes.
The senator's was one of many voices on the topic Monday, the first business day at the Minnesota Capitol following Saturday's Arizona shooting of a congresswoman and others attending her public event. Most called for keeping the Capitol easily accessible, but that concept will be discussed this week.
Gov. Mark Dayton, in office just a week, said he has not changed his security since the Saturday shootings, but wants to talk to legislative leaders, law enforcement officials, the attorney general and others about whether changes are needed in the Capitol complex. He said balance is needed between safety and allowing Minnesotans into public facilities and near their elected officials.
"I don't intend to change how I conduct my public business," the Democratic governor said.
Capt. Matt Langer of the Minnesota State Patrol, which provides security at the Capitol, said that it is good to continually discuss how to improve security, but "we are very effective with the resources we have."
Improving security could cost more money in a time when the state budget already faces a $6.2 billion deficit.
But, Langer said, it is not just about money. Requiring the public and staff to go through metal detectors, for instance, would change the way the public learns about and follows government and that may not be acceptable to policymakers.
Right after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the state closed all but two public Capitol entrances. Since then, Langer said, technology and other improvements have made buildings in the Capitol area safer.
"You are never secure, you are always working to be more secure," he said.
Dayton has no plans to change his security procedures (plainclothes troopers usually accompany the governor), and neither does U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
"I really don't think so," Klobuchar said when asked if the shooting would change the public's access to her. "But I do hope that it makes people step back and think about the rhetoric and the kind of language people are using."
Minnesota's other U.S. senator, Al Franken, also wondered about political oratory.
"I think this might be a good wake-up call for everyone to tamp down the rhetoric," Franken said. "I think that's clear."
Dayton agreed: "The vitriolic political rhetoric must stop now."
Many around the country blame heated rhetoric for inciting incidents like in Arizona.
The public may walk into the Minnesota Capitol without being screened, although there are numerous cameras and other security devices in operation. Many state Capitols, and other government buildings, require visitors to at least go through metal detectors.
The governor and most of his staff took part in a nationwide moment of silence in memory of the six who died and those hurt in the Arizona shooting.
Monday appeared normal as the Minnesota Senate went into session.
A handful of men supporting same-sex marriage gathered near the chamber's main entrance, simply holding signs, causing no trouble. Two uniformed state troopers and retired troopers wearing burgundy blazers, hired annually to increase security during legislative sessions, stood near massive sliding doors outside the rear of the chamber.
Standing nearby, Ingebrigtsen talked about knowing first-hand the importance of security and his story explains why he feels the courts deserve tighter screening.
Before he became Douglas County sheriff, Ingebrigtsen's partner was shot and killed in a courtroom attack. The 1978 incident occurred when a drunken driving defendant appeared in front of a judge, carrying four hidden guns. He used one of those pistols to kill Deputy Sheriff Curt Felt, the senator said.
Ingebrigtsen is among an unknown number of lawmakers who carry handguns while in the Capitol, something that requires special permission from the state public safety commissioner.
Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer. Ryan Johnson of the Grand Forks Herald and Kristen Daum of The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead contributed to this report.