St. Tammany Parish Council meetings may draw a handful of observers or a crowd, depending on how controversial the agenda is on any given first Thursday of the month. But beginning this week, anyone who shows up to see the council at work will have to pass through heightened security measures.
Visitors who arrive at the Parish Council Chambers on Koop Drive on Thursday will be required to use a single set of doors to enter the building and will have to remove watches, cellphones, keys and wallets for inspection before going through a metal detector.
Security personnel also will open and search handbags, briefcases and backpacks.
Parish President Pat Brister said in a news release that the administration and Parish Council made the decision together to increase security.
“Like many other parishes around the state, we feel that it is an unfortunate necessity,” Brister said. “We want our citizens to feel that they can come here and be civilly engaged in a safe environment.’’ The metal detector cost $4,964, according to a parish spokeswoman.
Parish officials have been considering stepping up security for some time, commissioning a security study after an incident last November when a Lacombe man with a gun was arrested trying to enter a building near the parish government headquarters.
In the spring, the parish increased the number of Sheriff’s Office deputies who provide security at the meetings from one to four, spokeswoman Jennifer Bushnell said.
The addition of the metal detector will not require any additional deputies, she said, but three will be used to staff the detector.
The Brister administration suggests that people planning to attend council meetings allow some extra time to go through security.
St. Tammany joins a number of other area jurisdictions that have metal detectors in place at their council meeting places. Both Orleans and Jefferson parishes have them at the entrance to their government headquarters, as does Kenner.
In St. Tammany Parish, the courthouse has a metal detector.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.