By Timothy Chipp
Town of Niagara officials are investigating options to increase security at town-owned facilities after an incident months ago.
Niagara police Chief James Suitor has been investigating a pair of new security options to better protect the employees at both Town Hall and the recreation and senior center in the aftermath of an arrest made months ago at Niagara Town Hall.
Suitor said an “irate and intoxicated man” entered Town Hall, causing a disturbance that led to the arrest. Shortly after, town employees asked the Town Board to upgrade security at the facility, which also hosts the town’s court.
“The majority of our clerical staff was concerned,” Suitor said following Wednesday’s Town Board work session, where councilmen discussed Suitor’s findings. “There are no control points for determining how people can come and go. They asked the town to look into the cost to change that.”
That cost is controlled by a state bid, Suitor said. Buffalo-based LINSTAR Inc. provided the town with a July quote of roughly $18,600 to provide a little peace of mind to the employees who experienced the disturbance.
Suitor said fitting the senior center with similar technology would be about $3,500 extra.
Essentially, the options include both a video surveillance system and a radio frequency identification (RFID) system designed to restrict access to several offices without proper credentials.
So, anyone looking to visit Town Hall or the senior center would need to be buzzed into the facility while outside under scrutiny by an office staff member viewing the situation on video.
To see these videos, the purchase price also includes three tablets that will display the scene, allowing proper discretion.
Eight wall-mounted swiping mechanisms will also be installed across Niagara Town Hall’s various offices.
Such a system already exists at the town’s Highway Department facility, while video surveillance, albeit one that is not as technological, does exist in the courtroom portion of Town Hall.
Councilmen chose to not address the potential purchase at Tuesday’s regular Town Board meeting, opting to table the discussion until at least September’s work session, scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 14. Supervisor Lee Wallace said there wasn’t yet enough information available to make a decision and questions, which were expressed at the Aug. 10 work session weren’t answered completely.
Councilmen wondered how efficient any system could be, should expansion cover the entire Town Hall facility. But increasing the capacity for video would essentially require a new system anyway, Suitor said, replacing and not piggy-backing on what the court uses.
The age of Town Hall also plays a role in what the town could do, he said.
“It’s common for government facilities to have these kinds of security measures,” Suitor said. “But our facility, built in the 1960s, wasn’t designed with these measures in mind. It’s very expensive to retrofit a facility like this. So, we’re trying to balance between safety and security and cost.”
The work session also featured questions about the general effectiveness of any such security system. Councilman Marc Carpenter said limited access can help prevent some situations, but it’s easy to fool the person on the other end of the camera.
A visitor could hide a weapon easily, he said, and do harm if that’s the intention.
“You buzz someone in, you don’t know their intentions,” Carpenter said. “They could say they’re going to the assessor’s office and then do something else entirely.”
But there’s something to also be said about the psychological effects of increased security measures, both on visitors and for those working in the facility, Wallace said.
Councilmen completed Tuesday’s regular meeting by paying bills and approving five measures in a session lasting four minutes total.
They purchased a 2018 Chevrolet pickup for the parks department, which was previously leased, at a total of $34,425.
Councilmen also approved a measure spending a bit more than $5,000 to continue a street light replacement program.