State employees deserve to work without worry over safety

The Wichita Eagle

Anybody having business at City Hall goes through metal detectors manned by security guards. Just in case.

Same with high school football and basketball spectators at games hosted by the Wichita school district. Just in case.

“Just in case” hasn’t applied to the Wichita tax compliance office operated by the Kansas Department of Revenue. Tuesday’s shooting of a worker shows that the state was comfortable with its employees and patrons not having protection from customers who may have felt aggrieved by the tax process or seizure of assets.

It is an unfortunate decision and one ready to be corrected.

The tax compliance office, located at Twin Lakes Shopping Center, is where residents go to pay back taxes. Sometimes property is seized, which can create angry customers.

Ricky Wirths, 51, is accused of shooting tax compliance agent Cortney Holloway multiple times Tuesday. The Department of Revenue said Wirths was facing forfeiture of assets because of nearly $400,000 in outstanding tax warrants against him and his construction company.

Police said Wirths entered an outer door, asked for Holloway specifically, then was granted access through another door by an employee.

Wirths found Holloway, they spoke briefly, then began shooting, a witness said. It came less than three hours after Holloway and sheriff’s authorities seized assets at Wirth’s home. Security accompanied Holloway to Wirths’ house, but the policy doesn’t bring security back to the tax office – where a witness told The Eagle the shooter kept firing until there were no more bullets.

Holloway was in critical condition after the shooting but was upgraded to fair condition Thursday.

Could the shooting have happened even with metal detectors and security in place? Possibly. An assailant may not get his weapon through the metal detector, but it wouldn’t prevent him from shooting before then.

The point is that metal detectors and security guards are deterrents. Someone with enough anger and instability to want to shoot up an office at least has to think about whether he’ll be successful if there are deterrents in place.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Sam Brownback and the Department of Revenue said this week that the agency is taking steps to secure offices. The spokeswoman called the incident a first for the department.

That’s too late for Holloway, his family and those in the tax office when shooting began. Anything less than beefed-up security is unacceptable at any state office where employees may come into contact with disgruntled visitors. Tax collection in an unenviable job made tougher when worrying about safety.