Buffalo City Hall Security Plan Creates Debate

Oct. 5--The Common Council's reluctance to approve an administration request to spend an extra $32,069 in federal Homeland Security money for City Hall surveillance cameras and high-tech devices is understandable, given this administration's tightening of political control.

But if safety is an overriding issue -- and it is, since 9/11 -- then a building security plan actually started during the previous administration deserves serious consideration.

This is not to say the Council should just give in and grant Mayor Byron W. Brown's request for more state-of-the-art equipment for an already upgraded security system.

An authorization by lawmakers earlier this year to spend nearly $144,000 in federal grants for better City Hall surveillance has resulted in cameras being installed outside the mayor's second-floor suite of offices, and a new entry system to the mayor's office will require employees to swipe electronic identification cards. But there are plans to put cameras in the 13th-floor hallways, outside Council chambers and near the city clerk's office, as well as near the first-floor and basement entrances and on the top-floor observation deck. Surveillance also will be installed near the city treasury on the first floor.

The mayor's team and those supporting these efforts will warn of possible security breaches and what Ellicott Council Member Brian C. Davis called "the only unsecured government building in New York State."

But University Council Member Bonnie E. Russell is right to seek more information about the security plan. She asks, for example, how surveillance cameras could red-flag people who might try to enter the building with concealed weapons.

Reportedly, when the building surveillance system is finished, officials estimate they will have spent about $380,000 in federal money. That sum demands both careful review and accountability. Council members are right to ask the questions, and the administration needs to provide answers.

Copyright (c) 2006, The Buffalo News, N.Y. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.