(Updated 4:10 p.m.) The new security measures at the state Capitol complex went live Thursday morning to mixed reviews from lawmakers and employees.
The new measures, which include metal detectors, security vestibules, and swipe card technologies, were all employed Thursday for the first time.
As with the first day of any new technology there were some glitches. Namely the shadows being cast in the vestibule used by staff and lawmakers periodically detected more than one person inside the glass booth.
The technology only allows for one person to enter at a time, so the person was asked by an electronic voice to step outside the vestibule and wait 10 seconds before trying to reenter the building. The glass around the vestibule, which is not bulletproof, is scheduled to be tinted in the next few days to resolve the issue. Other staffers had problems getting through the door with their backpacks or boxes of paperwork. It’s unclear at the moment how that problem would be solved.
The public and lobbyists now have to go through metal detectors which are located at the entrance of the Legislative Office Building and the west side of the state Capitol. However, once inside the building they can walk freely between the Capitol and the Legislative Office Building, which are connected by an underground concourse.
Rep. Pam Sawyer, R-Bolton, who is retiring after 22 years in the legislature, said she remembers when all the doors in the building were opened and there were no badges or cameras.
She tried out the new turnstiles Thursday, but commented that “it’s a sad day” when all these security measures become necessary.
Although metal detectors are a common security measure at the Capitol buildings in many states, they have rarely been used at the Connecticut Capitol complex. Capitol police temporarily installed two metal detectors in the Legislative Office Building in January 2013, when more that 2,000 people came to the building for a public hearing on gun control.
The Capitol police announced the new security measures this January, but work on the project didn’t get underway until after this year’s legislative session.
Capitol Police Officer Scott Driscoll said the first day went well.
“We haven’t heard of any issues,” Driscoll said.
But Sen. Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said the true test of the new system will come when large crowds of people show up at the complex for a public hearing. He said he’s going to reserve judgment of the new system until then.
Legislative Management said the estimated cost of the enhanced security measures is around $600,000.
But security measures like the ones installed in Connecticut are not unusual in state Capitols around the country.
According to the National Conference of State Legislators, there are metal detectors installed at 23 state Capitols, including those in New York and Massachusetts. Some state Capitols screen all visitors with the metal detectors, while some — like California — exempt state employees and legislators.
Prior to installing the ones in Connecticut, Capitol Police visited capitol buildings in Albany, New York; Boston, Massachusetts; Trenton, New Jersey and Providence, Rhode Island.
Back in January information on deployment, protocols, and best practices were gathered on the trip and used by Connecticut Capitol Police to formulate their recommendations to legislative leaders, who accepted them.
The Joint Committee on Legislative Management chaired by outgoing Sen. President Donald Williams and House Speaker Brendan Sharkey never met this year to vote on the recommendations. In 2013, the committee met twice, but the security upgrades were never raised at either meeting.