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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Huntington metal detectors would send wrong message

Huntington, sadly, looks to be on track to become the first Long Island town or city hall to install metal detectors.

While other municipalities in Nassau and Suffolk have considered and rejected the move because officials said they didn't want constituents to feel intimidated or unwelcome, Frank Petrone, Huntington's supervisor, acknowledged Saturday that his town is heading the other way.

"It's a tough decision, and I could argue both ways," he said. "At this point, I'm looking to put protocols in place . . . you just don't put these things up."

Petrone said the move came in response to an altercation that ended with a resident -- who balked at having a bag inspected -- biting a Suffolk police officer last year. And recently because of what he called indirect threats from a single person. "There have been threats, not to any individual, but indirectly, with harassing phone calls," he said.

No other town -- or city -- hall in the region has detectors at buildings residents usually visit to get permits and licenses. And officials in most said they've never considered the move.

In Smithtown, Patrick Vecchio -- a former police officer and, at 38 years as town supervisor, New York State's longest-serving chief executive -- said he'd consider detectors only "if we had a series of threats of violence; sure, it's something we would have to discuss."

But that has not happened. "I think Town Hall is supposed to be a place where residents feel safe and feel welcome," he said.

In Hempstead, the largest town, by population, in the United States, officials revised safety protocols years ago. "We put some systems, like giving employees ID cards, into place," said Michael Deery, a spokesman for Supervisor Kate Murray. As for metal detectors, "We haven't seen the need for them," he said.

Long Beach and Southold have metal detectors in buildings where their city and town boards meet. But in Long Beach, the unit is on the second floor where city court meets; and Southold uses a portable unit when the hall is used for criminal court proceedings -- even as officials look at ways to move that function elsewhere.

In Suffolk, the county legislature uses a portable detector for general meetings. But a spokesman for County Executive Steve Bellone -- noting other security measures -- said Bellone had no plans to install them at the Dennison building in Hauppauge.

In Nassau, while there are none in the Mineola building shared by County Executive Edward Mangano and lawmakers now, a Mangano spokesman said Mangano was considering adding them.

In Oyster Bay, Supervisor John Venditto and town safety officials discussed metal detectors -- and rejected the idea. "It's a judgment call and our view, and the supervisor's view, is that it could be intimidating," said Justin McCaffrey, the town's public safety commissioner. "We want to make residents feel welcome in Town Hall, not intimidated."

Some town and city halls use security cameras or request police presence at potentially cantankerous meetings. Some require visitors to sign in and produce ID as another way to protect employees and fellow residents -- and these are among safety precautions visitors can't see, town and city officials said in interviews last week.

Tracey Edwards, a Huntington Town Board member who supports installing a metal detector, said she believed technology could provide a way for Huntington to have better security -- and not give the prototypically suburban Town Hall a prison or airport security-like vibe.

"I'm not thinking TSA, I'm thinking E-ZPass, where people would walk through a detector that's embedded into an entryway," she said. "I want more security, and I think it can be done without being intrusive."

Petrone said the town probably would begin by using a detector for board meetings, as early as fall. And probably installing a permanent one -- the town has made no decision on what type -- sometime early next year.

Either way, a visit to town hall just won't be the same.

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