Agenda item A18 on the Sept. 9 City Council agenda is a resolution to hire two armed security guards for the Morton Civic Center. One guard would stand at the most used entrance – the one off the parking lot – and the other would patrol the halls.
We understand that, in this age of random spree killings, safety is of paramount concern, but we are not convinced that this proposal has been thoroughly analyzed. We do not see this as a way to help ensure the safety of employees in and visitors to the Civic Center.
First, we would like to know the genesis of this proposal. Is the City caving in to the climate of fear in this country or is it offering a response to immediate threats and potential harm?
What, specifically at the Civic Center, are people afraid of? How many people working in or visiting the Civic Center have been threatened, menaced or assaulted? Have these threats or assaults come from employees or visitors? That is, are employees afraid of their colleagues or of the residents of Evanston?
We know that some City Council meetings and other City meetings have been raucous and rancorous to the point the Council members are seeking ways to limit citizen participation at meetings. While some meetings have seen angry words and reciprocal hostility – and we deplore that behavior on either side of the dais – we do not believe anything has risen beyond the level of insult, a request that a City official resign, or a vow to unseat various one or more Council members in the next election. The only incident of which we are aware is the one reported by the former City Clerk, who was threatened by phone after he spoke at a City Council meeting.
But if there have been no threats, no injuries and no harm to visitors to the Civic Center or employees there, then we do not think armed guards are a solution to this non-problem.
What message is the City sending to, say, a person who comes to the Civic Center to purchase a beach token and is greeted by an armed guard or sees an armed guard roaming the hallways?
Before City Council takes action on this proposal, we think they should acknowledge what problem it is they are trying to address.
If there is a real danger at the Civic Center, how will this proposal address it?
If the Council is serious about this, we suggest that City officials and City Council members take a more thoughtful approach and more effective steps to ensure the safety of visitors, employees and elected officials.
There are six entrances and four expansive floors in the Morton Civic Center. One easy measure would be to close some of those entrances and lock the doors of offices that are currently vacant. Perhaps a camera system would provide better monitoring than one guard wandering through the building.
If City officials seriously believe that things are at a point that we need to have hired guns in the Civic Center, they should add police officers, not security guards. Police officers are trained to assess situations quickly and react responsibly. Certainly, this would be an added expense – perhaps twice as much as security guards – but if safety is indeed the issue, it will be worth it.
In the meantime, we would hope that Council will delay this vote so that Council members, employees and residents have time to think this through.