AUGUSTA (AP) – Three years after the state shelled out $28,000 in federal homeland security money to buy seven metal detectors and package screeners to improve security at the Capitol, the equipment remains in storage.

The Bureau of Capitol Security lacks staff to operate the machines, which have never been used.

Changes, however, may be in the works.

A legislative study last summer recommended that the state provide additional staffing at Capitol Security, in part to activate the detectors. And Rep. Carol Grose, D-Woolwich, is calling for a new review of security in the Capitol complex.

The focus would be on weapons screening, “creative methods of enhancing the security presence,” such as recruiting retired police officers, and continuing education for security workers, she said.

“I really think we need to beef things up,” Grose said. She warned that if an armed and vengeful spectator in the public gallery overlooking the House chamber “didn’t like what we were doing,” the entire House “could be wide open” to an attack.

Officials estimate that 700 to 800 people pass through the Capitol each day, including visitors, lawmakers and staff members. The only shield against an armed attack is a Capitol Security officer who sizes up people as they enter the building.

Capitol Security has six officers and three security workers to police about 50 state buildings in Augusta and Hallowell, including the State House.

“There’s a belief that it’s the people’s house and people should be free to come and go,” said Chief Russell Gauvin, who heads the bureau. Few crimes are committed at the Capitol, he said, and it remains “a very safe place.”

“On the flip side, when we have something happen, it’s going to be ugly,” he added.

The addition of an armed Capitol Security officer at what is now the lone public entrance has made the Capitol somewhat more secure in recent years. Before then, entrances on all four sides of the building were public, with no police officer in sight.

In that sense, Maine is faring better than some states. A survey by the National Conference of State Legislatures found 33 states have two or more public entrances to their capitols and that only 14 other states have armed guards at public entrances.

The same survey, however, found that 20 states use metal detectors in their capitols, and a handful also scan or search packages.



Information from: Portland Press Herald, http://www.pressherald.com


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