In the Spotlight

News & Features
More from MPR
Your Voice
DocumentJoin the conversation with other MPR listeners in the News Forum.

DocumentE-mail this pageDocumentPrint this page
Hennepin County moves closer to installing detectors
Larger view
Visitors to the Hennepin County Government Center in downtown Minneapolis might soon have to pass through metal detectors. (MPR file photo)
Ten months after a woman was shot and killed on the 17th floor of the Hennepin County Government Center in downtown Minneapolis, commissioners are close to approving a plan to install metal detectors in the building.

Minneapolis, Minn. — Hennepin County has moved a step closer to putting metal detectors in the Government Center in downtown Minneapolis.

Prompted by a fatal shooting there last September, a county panel has approved spending an initial $1.5 million for the detectors. But officials don't yet know the full cost of screening all the employees and visitors in the building for weapons.

County employees, judges, lawyers, elected officials and citizens looking for property information will all have to pass through metal detectors if the plan is approved by the full county board.

A majority of county commissioners now say they support screening for weapons at the elevators that serve as the entrance to the 24-story towers. Approval of the plan by a board committee followed remarks by Geri Joseph, mother of Shelly Joseph Cordell, who was killed on the 17th floor of the government center.

"I will always believe that my daughter would have had a chance to continue her good and caring life if there had been metal detectors in place," Joseph said. "But there were none. I have to tell you that even today I find that a serious failure of this commission's leadership."

Joseph Cordell's cousin, Susan Berkovitz, is serving a life sentence in the killing. The two were involved in a property dispute. Berkovitz also wounded Joseph Cordell's attorney, Richard Hendrickson.

Geri Joseph says her daughter's murder is evidence the building's grand, open atrium is no longer suitable for greeting those coming for contentious court hearings and legal disputes.

I will always believe that my daughter would have had a chance to continue her good and caring life if there had been metal detectors in place.
- Geri Joseph, mother of shooting victim Shelly Joseph Cordell

"It is not possible to escape the frictions that can grow in this environment," she said. "And many of those frictions, with the explosive emotions that often go with them, can walk right into the Hennepin County Government Center."

At least four of the seven county commissioners say the gap in security is a difficult but necessary reality to address.

Hennepin County can no longer hold out as one of the last government centers in the country without weapons screening, Commissioner Randy Johnson said.

"We like to live in a very open society, but when we look at what's going on in courthouses all around the country we have to realize that Hennepin County is no longer Lake Wobegon on the prairie," he said.

Commissioner Penny Steele agreed and said the world has changed since the building was built 30 years ago.

"This is a major urban area and we have to get real about dealing with some of the issues that the rest of the world has dealt with," Steele said, "and I think these recommendations are very reasonable."

If the plan is approved by the full commission, the county will hire architects and set aside $1.5 million to start. County staffers don't know the full cost yet, but an earlier plan estimated at least $2 million to buy equipment for each of the two elevator bays. Yearly operating costs are separate. Officials say they can have an interim screening system in place within six months.

Commissioner Mike Opat opposes the screening. He called the building a relic of a simpler past, but said it can be a daunting enough place already for people coming to seek the county's help.

"Why I can't vote for this is for that developmentally disabled client or parent that comes down. And they're scared to death to come to the government building as it is," Opat said. "And now they're going to have to go through the weapons screening, see the officers. There will be much more of a law enforcement presence. That's too much for me."

Opat questioned whether county government should consider moving to a new or different building that provides separate spaces for the county's social service and court functions.

Respond to this story
News Headlines
Related Subjects