AUGUSTA – The state possesses security equipment to make the State House a safe place but lacks the personnel to operate it, the head of security said.
Bureau of Capitol Security Chief Don Suitter told a legislative panel Tuesday that he has a metal detector and X-ray machine that cost about $30,000 using federal Homeland Security money.
But the machine has yet to be installed because he doesn’t have enough officers to stand guard.
Suitter told the State House Facilities Committee that he would need five trained people to use the equipment. He now has five uniformed officers, three employees out of uniform and a part-time clerical person.
“We don’t have the people we had six or seven years ago,” Suitter said. “We’ve been caught up in the budget squeeze.”
After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the state instituted security measures to make the State House more secure.
Many of the building entrances are no longer open to the public, and employees who work in the building have identification cards that give them access only to areas related to their work. Legislative committee rooms are equipped with panic buttons in case of emergency.
Still, members of the public can walk in the State House and State Office Building without clearing any type of security.
The State House Facilities Committee, which includes members of House and Senate leadership, voted to form a working group to write policies and procedures for how the detectors should be used and how to pay for more personnel.
At the same time, legislators said they are mindful that the State House should be easily accessible to the public.
“There’s a fine line between creating Fort Knox and, at the same time, we’d all be kicking ourselves if something was to happen,” said Sen. Kenneth Gagnon, D-Waterville.