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Burton Pronounces State Capitol Security Upgrade Good Enough

January 04, 2002|CARL INGRAM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — Calling an apparent end to additional security improvements at the state Capitol, the powerful leader of the Senate said Thursday that safety protections for its occupants and the public are adequate.

Except for installing metal detectors at entrances to the 127-year-old statehouse, Senate President pro tem John Burton said every reasonable security upgrade has been made and no more are necessary.

"There is adequate protection for what you can protect against," he told reporters. He also said that "anybody who is willing to die to do something, you can't stop them."

Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza (D-Merced), chairman of a Capitol security committee, which includes Burton, said he generally agreed that security has been improved, but he was not ready to say that the job is finished.

"We still have to look at a permanent barrier for the Capitol perimeter," Cardoza said.

Burton is the Legislature's most powerful member. Without his approval, spending on new projects can be certain to stop.

Commissioner D.O. "Spike" Helmick of the California Highway Patrol, which is in charge of security at state structures, said that about $2 million has been invested in new Capitol security measures during the last few years.

But the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the anthrax scare turned up the pressure to make the state Capitol even safer, including moving the mail room from a basement site under the governor's office to a secure spot several miles away.

Since then, security improvements have included locking all doors to the Capitol except at two entries, where visitors must display identification and can be searched. Also, extra CHP officers and two bomb-sniffing dogs patrol the building and surrounding Capitol Park.

At several spots, flower pots weighing one ton each have been erected as temporary barriers against vehicles. No agreement has been reached on a permanent barricade, long sought by the CHP.

Starting in the mid-1990s, a slow but steady effort has been underway to improve security in the building. Steps include hidden video cameras, special lighting, metal detectors at the Senate visitors gallery, electronic lock systems, employee ID badges and stricter access to the Capitol basement garage where the cars of the governor and lawmakers are parked.

But Burton told reporters Thursday he believes the only addition still needed is metal detectors at the two public entrances. He said he wants the detectors installed inside the building and not outside where lines of "little school kids [could] catch pneumonia in the rain."

There also is no agreement yet on where visitors would gather inside the building while waiting to go through the detectors. Burton noted that at the U.S. Capitol, visitors are screened inside the buildings.

Helmick was mostly satisfied with the progress. "We could do more, sure, but . . . we've come a lot further than I ever thought we would."

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