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Pridgen calls for reviewing security in City Hall

Security in City Hall should be reviewed after recent shootings in Arizona and at a Florida school board meeting, according to Buffalo's newest lawmaker.

"Waiting on a tragedy is not the best option," Ellicott Council Member Darius G. Pridgen said.

He is working on a resolution, to be filed with the Council next week, that will call on the mayor and other city officials to scrutinize security in the 28-story building.

While police officers are stationed at the entrances to the mayor's office and city treasury, City Hall does not have armed security at its main entrances. Nor does City Hall use metal detectors.

While Pridgen stopped short of endorsing such security measures, he said he is concerned about the "vulnerability" and "safety" of thousands of people who visit City Hall monthly and the hundreds of employees who work there each day.

But Michael Kuzma, an attorney who has worked in City Hall for nine years, said he would oppose any plan that would station security guards at entrances or install metal detectors.

"The government belongs to the people," he said. "If you place guards or metal detectors at entrances, you put limitations on the ability of people to exercise their First Amendment rights."

Kuzma, a legislative assistant to Council President David A. Franczyk, said he worries that some officials might use beefed-up security to block access by people "who they don't want to deal with."

Nothing is wrong with Pridgen's call for the creation of a more comprehensive protocol for dealing with building security, Kuzma said. But any plan that would tighten access to City Hall would be wrong, he added.

Weeks after Mayor Byron W. Brown became mayor in 2006, he clearly indicated he thought City Hall security was too lax. He instituted a policy requiring visitors to his second-floor office to wait in the hallway while a police officer stationed at the entrance calls ahead for clearance. Brown also advanced a long-discussed plan to install more surveillance cameras throughout the building, while employees were required to wear new identification cards.

Brown's office had no immediate reaction to Pridgen's claim that City Hall might not be adequately prepared to deal with major security breaches.

"We're not going to comment until the Council takes action on [Pridgen's] resolution," said Peter K. Cutler, mayoral spokesman.

Tightening security in City Hall has been discussed at least two other times in the past decade. Back in 2003, then-Mayor Anthony M. Masiello announced plans to station uniformed police officers at all building entrances. The idea was abandoned only a day after it was proposed. City officials cited lack of money and manpower for such efforts.

In 2006, when Brown pushed for the installation of more surveillance cameras throughout the building, Franczyk, the Council president, warned that officials should not "go overboard with this stuff."

He specifically objected to installing cameras on the 13th floor, where his office, Council Chambers, the city clerk and other offices are located.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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