COLUMBIA -- Gov. Mark Sanford criticized $5.3 million in planned Statehouse security improvements Tuesday, saying the money could be better spent combating the state's high violent crime rate.
"I have yet to read ever about any terrorist attack on a state capitol," Sanford said at his monthly Cabinet meeting.
"I just don't think it's a high priority target -- though sometimes I would like it to be."
Sanford quickly added, "That's a joke," and the quip drew laughs from Cabinet members.
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At the meeting, two members of Sanford's Cabinet, State Law Enforcement Division Chief Robert Stewart and Department of Public Safety director James Schweitzer, justified the proposed upgrades.
"I didn't take it as criticism," Schweitzer said after the meeting. "Should this be at the top of the list? Should this be done?
"I believe that's a good thing," Schweitzer said of the proposed improvements, "but I also agree with the governor."
Past security assessments by the U.S. Secret Service and others have said security at the Statehouse parking garage should be tightened, Stewart said. If a violent crime or terrorist attack happens at the garage, Stewart said, those security reviews mean the state could be legally liable.
State officials announced last week that they would spend $5.3 million to add security checkpoints at Statehouse garage entrances, install cameras and add metal detectors at state office buildings entrances.
An employee or visitor would need a special radio transmitter card to enter the garage. About 2,000 people work at the Capitol, depending on whether the Legislature is in session.
In the past, someone parking in the garage -- built underneath the Capitol -- would have direct access to elevators in the House, Senate and other state office buildings. Visitors must pass through a metal detector to enter the Statehouse from the garage.
The state requires all vehicles parking in the garage to have exterior stickers, but there is little security monitoring cars that enter the garage.
Stewart said restricting garage access would help prevent not only terrorist attacks, but also violent crimes such as rape.
Still, Sanford questioned the need, and he noted South Carolina has the highest violent crime rate of any state according to Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics. The $5 million, he said, could help reduce crime across the state.
"How many rapes have occurred (at the Statehouse parking garage)?" Sanford asked.
"None," Stewart said. "How many do we need before we do something about it?"
Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, said the Legislature has a responsibility to protect workers, visitors and tourists at the Capitol.
"I believe we have a duty to ensure that visitors to our public Capitol are protected and that we have taken reasonable measures to do so," McConnell said. "I am disappointed that the governor would try to calculate the cost-benefit analysis on citizens' lives."
Statistically, violence at capitol buildings across the country has been sporadic. There have been at least three deadly incidents over the last decade. The threat of terrorism has prompted many states to improve security.
On Tuesday, Colorado voted to spend more than $855,000 on metal detectors, X-ray machines and other security equipment. Nearly two dozen states have added security since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.