Kelso police are seeking additional security at City Hall due to a steady increase in confrontations with the public outside the building, which also houses the police station.
“(These confrontations) have been going on for 10 years, but they’ve steadily over time gotten worse to the point where it feels like we need to do something,” Police Chief Darr Kirk said in advance of Tuesday's Kelso City Council meeting.
During the meeting, the council also named six finalists for the city manager position, and the list includes former Kelso Police Chief Andrew Hamilton and current Kalama City Administrator Adam Smee. The other four finalists are Victoria "Torie" Brazitis, assistant manager in Bothel, Wash.; David Burchett, downtown manager for the city of Renton, Wash.; Kevin Cronin, assistant city manager/community development director for Warrenton, Ore.; and Sam Hughes, city administrator for the city of NOrth Bonneville, Was.
The city needs to replace Steve Taylor, who stepped down last month to take a position with the Cowlitz PUD. Interviews with the finalists are tentatively slated for the week of July 19.
On the safety matter, city employees in other departments also have encountered belligerent and aggressive members of the public, Finance Director and interim City Manager Brian Butterfield said.
City staff on Tuesday night were expected to ask the City Council for direction on possible increased safety measures throughout City Hall, but the meeting was scheduled to begin after press time. (Check TDN.com Tuesday evening for an updated story from the council meeting.)
Police officers check out vehicles in a restricted parking lot directly behind City Hall facing the river, Kirk said. They often connect to the WiFi in this area and update their records.
However, the parking lot is only marked as restricted with signs, not physical barriers, and officers have been approached “aggressively” from people as they come and go from the building, Kirk said.
To make the parking lot more secure, he said he’d like to add a gate on either side of the parking lot that would have a driving and walking entrance.
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Other safety measures could include additional security cameras at the two customer service counters inside City Hall for the Finance and Community Development departments.
“Sometimes people get quite angry and yell and cuss. Sometimes they threaten people with violence,” Butterfield said. “We thought it would be a good time to let council know that sometimes employees get nervous. It would be nice to have enhanced security for peace of mind.”
The community development front counter is an open waist-high desk with a door to the side. The finance customer service area has bars between city employees and citizens, but there isn’t any glass, Butterfield said.
City employees have called the police to respond to threatening customers, he said.
People have been loud and belligerent and threatening, and we’ve asked them to leave,” Kirk said. “(They were) physically and verbally aggressive, all the things that make employees feel unsafe in their jobs.”
The additional safety measures are not budgeted at this time, Butterfield said. City staff are just asking the council for direction. If the council supports additional measures, staff would look into options and bring back a recommendation at a later meeting.
“There’s nothing that has happened recently that is heightening our alertness,” he said. “We just said if one department is going to talk about security upgrades, it might be a good time to bring the whole thing forward.”
The council expressed support for greater security and said it is important to explore the gate option. But it made no formal decisions.