WASHINGTON — Members of Oklahoma’s congressional delegation said they are sensitive to security issues in the wake of the killings at a Tucson event. Two said they would welcome law enforcement officers at their town hall meetings.
Freshman Rep. James Lankford said Tuesday he’ll gratefully accept the offer from Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel to provide security at his public appearances to give those attending some peace of mind.
“I don’t want anything to discourage people from coming to events,” Lankford said.
At the same time, he said he wouldn’t want security to be “oppressive.”
Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, and Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, said some perspective was necessary. The attack in Tucson that killed six people and wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 13 others was horrific, but rare, they said.
“I don’t think it’s something that calls for unique preparation or a new level of security,” Cole said.
Cole and Rep. Dan Boren, D-Muskogee, said they notified local law enforcement agencies about their town hall meetings in August 2009, when the health care debate was raging and meetings were packed all across the country. Cole said he alerted law enforcement in part because of traffic concerns.
Boren said Tuesday he has 25 town hall meetings planned, starting later this month, and would notify the sheriff’s departments in all of the counties beforehand.
He said security would be “reassuring” for those attending his meetings.
“A vast majority of the time, you’re not going to have a problem,” Boren said. “But it can’t hurt.”
After the Tucson killings, Whetsel contacted members of the delegation, offering them free security at their county events. Whetsel said the cost would be minimal and would not take deputies off the streets.
“Having uniformed law enforcement officers at a public speaking event by elected officials is an important safety measure,” Whetsel said. “The Oklahoma County sheriff’s office has started the process of creating this special unit to work with dignitaries who request the service.”
Most law enforcement agencies contacted by The Oklahoman said their departments have no plans to bolster security.
The Tulsa County Sheriff’s Department has discussed what precautions to take but decided to leave it up to the dignitary to ask for security, Sgt. Shannon Clark said.
Stillwater Police Chief Norman McNickle said his department likely will have more of a presence at public events, at least for a while.
Cleveland County Undersheriff Rhett Burnett said his agency is ready to provide security if a public official believes it’s needed and the manpower is available.
“Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as 100 percent security,” Burnett said. “You never know who is going to show up.”
Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Cheyenne, said he has made safety a top priority and would continue to do so, while maintaining his annual tradition of 50 town hall meetings.
“While it would be inappropriate to discuss the security measures in detail, there is a fine balance between providing proper security and making sure my constituents have access to me and my staff,” Lucas said.
Cole also called for some balance, saying he didn’t want to see efforts that would make people reluctant to attend town hall meetings.
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