Capitol & State

Idaho attorney general tightens security in Capitol office

Attorney General Lawrence Wasden at Idaho's 47th inauguration ceremonies in the Capitol building Jan. 9, 2014.
Attorney General Lawrence Wasden at Idaho's 47th inauguration ceremonies in the Capitol building Jan. 9, 2014.

The Idaho Capitol is open seven days a week — until 10 p.m. weeknights when the Legislature is in town. Most offices maintain an open-door policy during business hours.

But as of two weeks ago, to visit the Attorney General’s Office, you’ll need more than an appointment. You’ll need to be buzzed in.

The office, located on the second floor, has moved to address low-level but longstanding security concerns, installing a new intercom and video system that allows workers at the front desk to monitor and control who enters. A door security system, previously installed but not activated, has been turned on. Now the glass front doors are locked unless you have a security card to swipe through a reader.

The new system was installed May 25. No single incident prompted the move, AG spokesman Todd Dvorak said. Mostly, it’s “about ensuring a secure work environment for the staff here in the main office suite.”

Security in the Capitol is generally unobtrusive — there are no metal detectors, for example, and visitors have unrestricted access to public areas even on weekends. In line with Idaho’s pro-gun thinking, weapons are not banned in the building. They were for 12 years, initially under a 1996 executive order by Gov. Phil Batt that was twice renewed by his successor, Dirk Kempthorne.

But in 2008, lawmakers passed a law that only the Legislature could regulate firearms in Idaho. Later that year, Gov. Butch Otter allowed the Statehouse weapons ban to expire. It was unclear, his office said at the time, whether the governor could restrict firearms given the new law.

The Capitol has its own security officers. An Idaho state trooper is posted full time in the governor’s wing on the second floor. That trooper came to the AG’s office as a precaution last March 11.

That Friday, a militia group staged a rally on the Capitol steps, and afterward group members came indoors to sing the National Anthem on the second floor of the Capitol rotunda. Right after that, about a half-dozen men, on the spur of the moment, walked into the AG’s office, wanting a quick chat with the boss, Lawrence Wasden.

Wasden wasn’t there at the time, and the visitors left without incident. But having an armed group enter the office, one of them filming events on his phone, was a little unnerving to front-office staff, to say the least.

Last month, a man upset over a legal matter came into the office wanting to speak to Wasden. He was agitated and threatening. Staff tried to explain that the attorney general had nothing to do with the man’s legal case, but the situation escalated, moving outside the office and into the rotunda. Capitol security and state police responded and defused matters, and the man left.

Wasden, in a statement, said the decision to increase security hasn’t been easy.

“But ultimately, there was a need to balance the open access the public has had to my office in the past with providing my staff a more secure workplace environment,” he said. The new measures won’t change “the level of engagement I’ve always maintained with the citizens of this state, lawmakers and others who interact with my office on a daily basis.”

Bill Dentzer: 208-377-6438, @IDSBillD