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Metal detectors, more deputies planned to boost Rath Building security

Get ready for a level of security at the downtown Department of Motor Vehicles office that no other Erie County DMV office has – metal detectors, hand-held screening wands and X-ray machines.

All three public entrances at the Rath Building could have them installed by this fall. That includes the main entrance and the Social Services and DMV entrances facing Pearl Street.

Installation of the security equipment would come as part of a larger effort to tighten security at the Rath Building – the main county government building at 95 Franklin Street.

The security plan also calls for more sheriff’s deputies and security guards.

“We have had incidents, in the past here, of individuals who have become violent,” said County Executive Mark Poloncarz. “We have incidents of threats of violence. In this day and age, we cannot sit back and assume nothing is going to happen.”

The Legislature is likely Thursday to approve $1.5 million in county reserves on the security upgrade proposal.

The security plan comes on the heels of recent security tightening at Buffalo City Hall. The Common Council agreed to hire armed guards. Visitors began walking through metal detectors last week. X-ray machines and additional security cameras are planned.

Poloncarz said county security must similarly change.

He pointed out that visitors inside and outside the Rath Building have been arrested as recently as a few months ago. Social Services employees, in particular, have faced threats from the public, he said.

“Often, it’s in relation to people who may have been denied benefits or had their child taken away from them,” he said. “People aren’t always happy.”

The county restricted underground parking access to the Rath Building in March and posted a deputy at the bridge that connects the Rath Building and Main Place Mall. The Sheriff’s Office maintains a substation on the Rath Building’s third floor, but Poloncarz said that’s not enough.

More than 2,000 people come to the Rath Building each day, he said. Roughly half are county employees, who would not be subject to the screening if they present their employee ID badges.

Social Services employees have complained about lax security, not just at the Rath Building, but at leased office space at several other locations managed by private landlords. The $1.5 million security plan would not address those properties, which the county doesn’t control. But Poloncarz said that employees in those buildings already have better security than those who work at the Rath Building.

Poloncarz originally requested nine additional security guards and five additional sheriff’s deputies, but members of the Republican-supported Legislature majority want to amend his proposal to create a greater, armed presence.

The amendment calls for adding only five security guards but increasing the number of sheriff’s deputies from five to six. Deputies earn about 77 percent more than guards.

“The building guards, while less expensive, don’t have the same security expertise as the armed sheriff’s deputy,” said Legislature Majority Leader Joseph Lorigo, C-West Seneca.