COLUMBIA – Police Chief Ken Burton said that he was already thinking of ways to improve security for members of the Columbia City Council when the shooting in Tucson, Ariz., wounded a congresswoman and killed six people.
Burton started reviewing security after a December shooting at a school board meeting in Panama City, Fla.
“I think some recent incidents might lead us down the path of providing a little training,” Burton said Wednesday.
Burton said he's discussed training for emergencies with City Manager Bill Watkins, offering Police Department expertise to members of the Columbia City Council and possibly Board of Education members.
Watkins said he's talked about security training for the council with Mayor Bob McDavid.
“We all agree it is something we need to do,” Watkins said in an e-mail.
McDavid said that “prudent security measures” were “just common sense.” The training would cover emergency response and recognition of danger signals.
“It’s hard to anticipate the damage of a deranged psychopath and when they’ll do harm,” McDavid said. “We’ve always had security at city council meetings. The police chief takes it pretty seriously.”
A police officer is present at every council meeting, and Burton said that he sends an extra officer if he anticipates a contentious issue or large crowd.
Some council members have held the same kind of informal gatherings with their constituents that Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Gifford was hosting on Saturday at a Safeway in Tucson. Burton said no council members has asked for security from his department, adding he "would be happy to provide" it if a council member anticipated tension over a hot topic.
The shooting in Tucson hit home for former Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala. Skala knew the victim of another local government shooting: Michael Lynch, a Kirkwood councilman who was shot Feb. 7, 2008, at a council meeting. Lynch was Skala’s sponsor for the National League of Cities, an association of cities and state municipal leagues.
“This is going to be a clarion call for people to be more vigilant," Skala said.
Skala held regular constituent sessions in a cafe but said he never felt in danger.
“I’ve always had the ability to diffuse situations that came up,” Skala said. “I make a point of making sure that it’s not bad to disagree, but it doesn’t help to get down in the gutter.”