A dozen police officers guarded New York’s City Hall yesterday. Metal detectors were in place, standing prominently at each of the ornate building’s side gates. Visitors were interviewed twice about their intended business before they could gain entry. The New York Times reports that security precautions were as they had been since the traumatic days after Sept. 11, positioned to thwart any number of threats, except one that arose from what amounted to a traditional courtesy.
The gunman who fatally shot Councilman James E. Davis – armed with a pistol and with additional bullets stuck in his sock – had been waved past the metal detectors outside the building by police officers because he was a guest of Davis. The councilman did not have to go through in deference to a standard bit of gate-keeping diplomacy that had survived even the new strictures of a terror-damaged city.
The courtesy shown council members and the mayor was part of an agreement that said these political officials would have easy access to the building they worked in every day. But the practice would end immediately, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.
Officials said the policy of allowing lawmakers to enter the building without being thoroughly checked did not extend to the guests of council members, and so the gunman, Othniel Boaz Askew, should not have been waved through. Council members said that, as a practical matter, officers often permitted those they arrived with to enter unexamined. The decision to allow council members to enter the building without going through the detectors marked a pullback from the measures in place right after Sept. 11.
Councilman Davis, a former police officer who led a community group called Love Yourself: Stop the Violence, had planned yesterday to introduce a resolution on workplace violence. But Askew, who had intended to challenge Davis for his council seat, drew a .40-caliber silver-colored pistol and started shooting.