Visitors must sign in to Phila.'s City Hall

Plans to limit access to the building date to 9/11. Officials will add restrictions if needed.

Posted: June 25, 2007

Beginning Wednesday, visitors to City Hall's upper floors will be required to sign in to the building at the northeast entrance, log in a destination, and wear a visitor tag, bringing an end to a century of generally unimpeded public access to the building.

City officials, who have been planning the new security system since shortly after 9/11, said they would not require visitors to show identification - as initially planned - and visitors will not be photographed.

Unless it's necessary.

"That will only be used when we feel we need that level of security," said Joan Schlotterbeck, commissioner of public property, the department in charge of operations. "If the state or federal government decides there is a need for a high level of security, we can shut it down almost like a fortress."

Some members of City Council, community groups and civil-liberties organizations had expressed concern about security proposals - particularly a plan to store digital images of all City Hall visitors in a city database. Such a system is now in use at the two main city office towers, the Municipal Services Building and One Parkway.

Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell said she had been assured that her constituents, including those who are homeless or in need of mental-health services, would not be hindered from entering the building by the new system.

"I've got people who come here looking for IDs," Blackwell said. "They will be allowed entrance."

"This is the people's building," she said. "I feel that very strongly."

Mary Catherine Roper, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, said the new measures still raised constitutional issues.

"Why do you have to put your name down to have access to your government?" she asked. "This is not a security measure. This . . . is keeping track of where people are going, which is not security."

"That's called Big Brother," she said.

Schlotterbeck said, "We will not interfere with anybody's rights."

"If a group of folks shows up at the door with a bunch of signs, we're just going to let them in," she said, adding that the police Civil Affairs Division would be alerted in such cases.

Rick Tustin, head of the city capital program office, said the $6.5 million security system resulted from plans launched as a result of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

"It's there for the safety of the people in the building," Tustin said. "It's part of the post-9/11 concern."

Public visitors to high-use offices on the building's first floor - such as the Department of Records - will be able to bypass the security station by entering the building through the inner courtyard, Schlotterbeck said. But they will not be able to go beyond the first floor.

Those who wish to visit busy city offices on the upper floors - such as the fourth-floor marriage-license bureau - will have to go through security.

City employees and those who regularly use the building will be provided with access cards that allow use of multiple entrances.

In addition to the new visitor sign-in security, Tustin said a network of digital surveillance cameras had already been installed around City Hall and on every interior floor.

Schlotterbeck said that she was uncertain how long the city would retain digital or paper information on visitors, but that it probably would not be more than 90 days. Normally, she said, only building managers would have access to the data, but police and other agencies could make use of it.

As an example, she cited a Saturday incident in January in which a man climbed scaffolding outside City Hall, broke a window in Councilman Jack Kelly's office, stole Bibles and a cake knife, and scrawled religious messages in various rooms on the fourth floor.

City Hall is closed on Saturdays and security personnel were unaware of the man's presence.

Later that night, the man was fatally shot during an encounter with police on Market Street.

Schlotterbeck said police used stored City Hall surveillance images to determine that the dead man had also been the intruder.


Contact culture writer Stephan Salisbury at 215-854-5594 or ssalisbury@phillynews.com.

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