There was once a time when all who came through Fresno City Hall had to go through tight security screening.
Implemented in January 2020 at a cost of $1.2 million, the public and employees would either go through a metal detector, manual/visual inspections, and place bags through an x-ray machine.
Then the COVID-19 shutdown happened.
“COVID kind of put that in suspension,” City Manager Tommy Esqueda said.
City Hall has been closed to the public since March 2020 with rare exceptions.
As workers return, they bypass the screening and show a worker ID badge — mandated in an ordinance passed by the Fresno City Council.
July 6 Circled for City Hall Reopening
With statewide COVID workplace rules starting to relax on June 15 — and an expected City Hall opening on July 6 — employee screenings may resume as well.
“Things are going to get back to normal. The guards will be screening people like they normally did, and employees will have to go through basically the same screening as others.” — Sam Frank, FCEA president
Sam Frank, president of the city employee union, anticipates a return to regular security screening.
“Things are going to get back to normal. The guards will be screening people like they normally did, and employees will have to go through basically the same screening as others,” Frank said.
Esqueda confirms that is the plan.
“That’s the current intent right now. We’re just trying to think of mechanically how do we do that? What’s the process? We want to do that because it never got implemented,” Esqueda said. “How do we want to adapt our return to work with that requirement?”
During a recent afternoon — in a half-hour period — 36 city employees walked through City Hall without security screening. Very few used the temperature check kiosk in the lobby, although employees can use an online verification system, GV Wire was told.
San Jose Tragedy Looms in Security Plan
The screening procedure has not changed even though there was a high-profile workplace tragedy in San Jose on May 26. An apparently disgruntled employee allegedly killed nine co-workers at a public transit maintenance yard.
Federal data shows that in 2018, there were 471 total fatal injuries among government workers at all levels. Of those, 63 were intentional shootings. The data does not show if the suspects were fellow employees.
And, that’s weighing on the mind of Esqueda, whose duties include establishing building security policy. They also are looking at possible security changes at city transportation facilities.
“We did talk with our security people at the municipal service center… just trying to heighten some awareness, raising awareness for, hey, we just need to be cautious here. Let’s double-check,” Esqueda said.
Frank approves of the current non-screening procedure.
“Unless they want to have screening everywhere, it’s not going to be 100% safe. And, with COVID-19 in full force and effect, it’s always been our position that employees who walk in show ID and then allow their bags or purses to be checked and a pat-down. That’s good enough … to determine whether somebody has a weapon on them,” Frank said.
An Exception to the Rule
Metal detectors and x-ray machines were installed at City Hall in January 2020. Final rules passed on Feb. 27, 2020, mandated that “all persons” who were not exempt had to undergo a security screening. Exempt: elected officials and other top-level officers.
It was part of a security effort to specifically ban firearms.
Esqueda said a memo by his predecessor last year halted the “all persons” requirement.
Frank said it may be too cumbersome to screen all employees all the time given how often they come in and out of the building.
“Once security determined that (employees are) not carrying any weapons after that point, it’s up to them to to make a determination whether that person can walk outside, walk around the building on a break and come back in and not go to the same level of scrutiny that they did the first time. Whether or not that’s going to change, that remains to be seen,” Frank said.
Should Elected Officials Have Concealed Weapons at City Hall?
Councilman Mike Karbassi said he is not worried about employees going through screenings. Moreover, he has sought approval for elected leaders to carry concealed weapons into City Hall.
“It’s unfortunate because all you need is one person who’s disgruntled or not well mentally to take the lives of others. And it’s a really dangerous thing. So I want safety for all our employees,” Karbassi said.
Attempts by Karbassi and councilman Garry Bredefeld to allow concealed weapons have failed in the past.