AUBURN — A Cayuga County legislator's "incognito" test of new security measures at the county office building has led to discussion about the policies and practices when visitors walk through the entrance.
Legislator Ryan Foley, who represents Auburn residents in District 15, said he had two constituents complain about their experiences with security since July when the new procedures were put into place. Over the past week or so, Foley and Undersheriff Jim Stowell have been working together to address concerns and strengthen current policies.
The new system at 160 Genesee St., Auburn, involves visitors showing security their photo ID. If visiting a floor other than the first, officers will list the date, time and floor on a sticker pass the person must wear. There are other new precautions in place such as bag searches and requiring people to keep their hoods down, all listed on a sign near the entrance.
Foley's experiment first was brought up at a Nov. 8 Government Operations Committee meeting, which Foley chairs. Following a safety committee presentation and update by Stowell, Foley said he had some concerns. He told the committee that he had worn sunglasses and a backpack and walked through the front doors of the office building one day. He'd forgotten his ID at home, but he had meant to be "incognito."
He told legislators that he was surprised how thoroughly his bag was searched, and that every pocket was opened.
"I think there's room to explore here about the exact policies of that group," he said. "I don't see unified policy at the moment, and I could be wrong by that. It seems selective to me."
Legislator Terry Baxter said he was angry that Foley had tested security, and appeared confused why his colleague would do that. Stowell said considering the number of mass shootings and terror attacks today, it's "not a big lift to ask what's in your bag."
In an email to The Citizen on Nov. 10, Foley wrote he had some concerns about whether the general public had a negative experience walking into the building, if people were treated differently based on their appearance or other things and the amount of discretion used by the security guards.
"I didn't feel security were hostile during this process, stern would be a good word, but I could see how some people might feel stressed after this type of interaction," he wrote. "My best guess from this whole charade that it's not so much the guards at the entrance as much as a lapse in the policy and procedures, as you noticed."
Stowell, Foley and the building's head of security Tom Giltner, got together Nov. 15 to discuss the policies in place and Foley's experience "to feel like an average person through the door."
Giltner confirmed that security checks bags. If it's a particularly large bag, they may ask to keep it behind the front desk. They may not check bags of people visiting departments on the first floor, because the line could become backlogged and security is on that floor anyways, Giltner added.
Giltner said if anyone has questions about the way security is handling things, he points to the signs. Stowell added that he's had no calls for discrimination complaints.
Giltner said if there are concerns, he hopes legislators or others will tell him. As a result of the interaction, too, Foley plans to participate more on the safety committee. Giltner and Stowell said they both felt it was important to have a legislative representative.
"It's tough," Giltner said. "When you make change, it's tough to get it going."