South Dakota lawmaker hits panic button to test security

AP News
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Posted: Feb 06, 2017 5:18 PM

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — A South Dakota lawmaker whose committee was debating whether to allow concealed guns in the Capitol said he hit a panic button just to see how quickly authorities would respond.

Republican Rep. Larry Rhoden announced what he'd done Monday after several minutes, and his comments were the only public indication that he had hit an alarm meant to alert authorities. Rhoden said he thought it would take less than roughly five minutes for authorities to respond, but the Highway Patrol later issued a statement saying security was able to quickly assess the situation using video monitoring.

Rhoden brought up the incident while he explained his support for legislation that would roll back a ban on guns that applies to most people at the Capitol — a bill that does not have the Highway Patrol's backing.

"We've all heard the old adage that when seconds count, the police are only minutes away," Rhoden said at the committee hearing. "I thought maybe that would be different in our situation."

Highway Patrol Superintendent Col. Craig Price said in a statement that the Capitol protective services division was notified within 25 seconds of the alarm being pressed. A supervisor then looked at the video monitoring system and saw that an armed plainclothes state trooper was already in the room. Nonetheless, Price said, a uniformed officer responded to verify there was no emergency.

Price said that while not all responses may be visible, officers take seriously their responsibility for security at the Capitol and state government complex.

The bill would allow people who have an enhanced pistol permit to bring guns into the Capitol, which has no metal detectors or other security checks at its entrances. Patrol Maj. Rick Miller testified against the legislation during Monday's hearing.

The committee voted to approve the bill, sending it to the full House. Similar legislation has failed in the past.

House Majority Leader Lee Qualm, the bill's main sponsor, said lawmakers on their chamber floor are like "sitting ducks."

"A good guy with a gun is the only thing that will take care of a bad guy with a gun," Qualm said.