WHEELING - Elm Grove Neighborhood Watch member Bill O'Leary thinks the Ohio County Commission's efforts to increase security at the City-County Building are "on the right track," but believes there is more to consider.
Commissioners recently said they are seeking a $158,395 grant for heightened security at the 1500 Chapline St. location. If the commission obtains the grant, then the Chapline Street lobby entrance will have an X-ray machine conveyor belt added to the magnetized metal detector already in place.
Other plans include changing access to the Wheeling Police Department to an exterior door instead of the current interior door, located inside the lobby. This would allow the police station to stay open to the public at night while restricting access to city and county offices. Plans also call for adding a security guard to work the lobby at night during evening meetings - such as City Council and various commissions. However, the guard may not stay the entire meeting. Instead, the guard may stay for 30 minutes into the meeting. After that, the doors would be locked from the outside, though people could still exit at any time.
Photo by Shelley Hanson
Ohio County’s commissioners are seeking a
$158,395 grant to increase security in the City-County Building. Shown here, a sign taped to an existing metal detector in the lobby tells people to enter “one at a time.”
O'Leary, however, said more should be done. He said guards should wait to leave until the meetings are over. In addition, the guards should keep a log of each person who enters and sign that person out as they leave. O'Leary believes this would undermine someone wishing to hide in the building until everyone leaves. He cited Wheeling Park High School's front entrance security as a model. All visitors to the school must sign in with proper identification and check out as they leave.
"There's a good example of how security works," he said of the high school. "My wife doesn't carry her purse with her and did not have her (identification) with her. The officer wouldn't let us in for the (March 15) City Council meeting. Eventually, he took her name and age and he looked her up on his computer and she got a badge to wear. They have that at a school, but not at a City-County building?"
Also, in not keeping a guard around until the end of the meeting will allow someone who entered unarmed to answer the door for an armed accomplice once the lobby clears, O'Leary said.
Ohio County Commissioner Randy Wharton said none of the plans have been finalized and more options will be considered later. He noted all options, however, must work efficiently and also be cost-effective, referring to overtime pay for the guards operating the lobby.
O'Leary noted the city currently has two officers supervising each council meeting, with Police Chief Robert Matheny occupying a seat on the council floor and another near the entrance; however, O'Leary believes a skilled gunman could easily rush in at any time.
"They could just come in there and blast them and how do you know which people at the meeting have a gun on them?" he said.
Other evening meetings, such as the Wheeling Planning Commission, Arts and Culture Commission and Finance Committee are not serviced with officers. While the metal detectors remain active at night and take images of whoever walks through them, the imaging only works if someone actually passes through the barrier.
Though there have been no problems with vandalism or violence in the building as of late, O'Leary said, "They've been lucky, but how long does it take?"