Ill. lawmakers, police discuss security issues

January 9, 2011 9:18:03 PM PST
The shooting rampage in Tucson, Ariz. has Chicago-area politicians talking about increasing their own protection, how much it would cost and whether it is needed.

Authorities say security will be increased when Gov. Pat Quinn and other state officials are sworn into office Monday, but they say there will not be any major changes in the aftermath of the Arizona shooting spree that left a member of Congress critically injured.

Illinois State Police announced Sunday that they had stepped up security measures for those attending Monday's inauguration ceremony in Springfield, Ill. While most Illinois lawmakers said they planned on being more cautious and working with local police departments when holding big, public events, not one said he or she was about to scale back from what they say is the most important part of their job, meeting with constituents -- even without security.

As the second-highest ranking leader in the U.S. Senate, Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin is provided with security. That kind of protection is only reserved for top leadership posts in both houses of Congress. Despite yesterday's shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, Durbin says it would financially impossible to protect every lawmaker.

"Look what we provide the president, and there is still no guarantee when he steps up in front of a crowd that his life is really safe. We do everything we can, but it costs a fortune," Durbin said.

Several Illinois lawmakers were out in public Sunday, including attending innaugural events in Springfield. But even Democratic Chicago Congressman Danny Davis, who recieved a threat Sunday, said the Arizona shooting would not change the way he interacted with the public.

"It was some person who emailed one of my staff persons and said, 'Danny Davis is next.' So, we've notified the authorties," said Davis.

Davis says he knows the person and suspects it was a prank, but the Congressman was taking it seriously. Rep. Giffords was shot while holding something called a "Congress in Your Corner" session, a meet-and-greet for constituents at a local grocery store. It was the kind of event that congressmen and women hold in their the districts every weekend.

Chicago Democratic Congressman Luis Guiteriez says that should not change.

"Certainly, it's prudent, wise, to be a little more cautious, but it's fundamental to my job [to talk] to people, and more important than me talking to them, is to being able to listen to them," Gutierrez said.

"Gabby loved her job, and what she loved most about her job was meeting her constituents and talking to them. I will leave it to the experts the part of your question that deals with security, but I think it's important for our democracy that we do not pull back from the most important part of it being a voice and representing the people we are supposed to be representing," Chicago mayoral candidate and former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said while responding to a question Sunday.

Some lawmakers said what can change is the poltical rhetoric. While there is no proof it played a role in the Arizona shooting, many believe it may have.

"Having worked in Arizona for five years, there's a lot of anti-government rhetoric, and a lot of people will espouse that. They certainly have a right to do that, but what you're always a little fearful of is when they wake up in the morning and say today I'm going to do something," said Chicago Police Supt. Jody Weis.

"It's incumbent on national leaders to use more genteel language, to tone down the debate," Republican Sen. Mark Kirk said.

"I hope we can stop using language that is inflammatory," Davis said.

According to published reports, members of Congress reported 42 cases of threats or violence in the first three months of 2010, which is nearly three times the 15 cases reported during the same period the year before.

Nearly all of the threats dealt with the health care bill, and Giffords was among the targets. Her Tuscon office was vandalized, and someone showed up at a previous political gathering with a gun.

Congresswoman Giffords' district was identified by Sarah Palin as a potential target for a Republican victory. On her website showing a United States map, Palin marked it with cross hairs of a gun sight. After the shooting, the map was taken off of the website.

Illinois State Police say they do plan on having some additional officers present for Monday's inauguration. Authorities say they will be visible to the public during the ceremony to discourage anyone who might be thinking about causing trouble.

They add that even before Saturday's shooting, police had plans for protecting officials as they are sworn in and for responding quickly to any threat.

In advance of inauguration activities, a reception for Gold Star families was held at the governor's mansion Sunday night. The families of deceased veterans were invited by Governor Quinn to be part of the inauguration festivities Monday.

The families went to support Quinn because of his long-time, pro-veterans positions.