Local Planned Parenthood takes safety precautions after Colorado shootings

Planned Parenthood workers have seen an uptick in angry rhetoric directed toward them. The local office is working closely with police, including a request for extra patrols, to monitor protests in the wake of a recent attack in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Planned Parenthood workers have seen an uptick in angry rhetoric directed toward them. The local office is working closely with police, including a request for extra patrols, to monitor protests in the wake of a recent attack in Colorado Springs, Colo. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

In the wake of the shooting that killed three people and injured nine others at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Friday, an official with the San Luis Obispo health center says staffers are working with police and following internal security protocols to keep patients and staff safe.

Local Planned Parenthood leaders declined to discuss specific security measures or whether they have changed since the Colorado shootings, saying they don’t want to tip off any protester who may want to do harm.

But San Luis Obispo police Capt. Chris Staley said the department has been in touch with Planned Parenthood officials, including learning the layout of the facility, to best respond to an emergency situation.

“Having a familiarity with the location is extremely important,” Staley said. “If something is happening in the back of the building, it’s important to know what the building looks like. It gives you an advantage to stop a threat.”

Staley said police communicated with the organization about its protocol, so it’s aware of how an emergency situation might transpire; and the department is planning a discussion soon with Planned Parenthood that will cover that ground.

Julie Mickelberry, vice president of public policy and communications at the Planned Parenthood branches in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, said staff members are well aware of an uptick in angry opposition and the potential for violence.

“We have ongoing training for our staff to be alert and prepared for specific situations,” Mickelberry said. “Since this summer, we’ve seen an increase in hateful rhetoric and a smear campaign against abortion providers. We’re not accepting this environment as normal.”

Planned Parenthood nationwide has faced intense criticism and controversy since the summer, when anti-abortion activists released eight edited undercover videos that allegedly showed agency officials discussing the sale of fetal tissue. The controversy has led to a debate in Congress over defunding the organization. Planned Parenthood has said the videos were heavily edited and made inaccurate assertions.

Colorado Springs investigators have not publicly disclosed a motive in the deadly shooting at the Planned Parenthood clinic there, but a law enforcement official reportedly said the alleged shooter mentioned “baby parts” after the shooting.

In San Luis Obispo, protesters have gathered outside the clinic on Pismo Street periodically for years, resulting in calls to police at times because of alleged harassment and intimidation, Staley said. No local incidents of violence have occurred, Staley said, but police will continue to check out potential threats to determine the nature of incidents and whether any laws are broken.

Staley said a group of about 10 to 15 protesters has gathered outside the health center in San Luis Obispo over the years. Incident logs show that police have responded to a number of calls at the clinic over the past decade, including suspicious activity, threatening behavior, vandalism, citizen disputes and disorderly conduct.

Staley said he recalled a protester who displayed graphic anti-abortion images on a sidewalk sign that he was posting. Police invoked a municipal ordinance and required him to take down the sign, but free speech rights allowed him to continue to post graphic images on his car, which were offensive to some people in the community, including mothers of young children, Staley said.

Mickelberry said Planned Parenthood officials are asking police in the jurisdiction of its five offices to increase patrols, but Staley said San Luis Obispo officers don’t go out of their way to patrol the health center area, although they are ready to respond on short notice if any issues arise.

Mickelberry said Planned Parenthood has close working relationships with authorities at its Tri-Counties clinics. She said at times patients who come to their clinics for a variety of services have felt threatened and intimidated. Staley said police have received calls made by staff members on behalf of patients.

“We’re not going to back down from offering high-quality care,” Mickelberry said.

Planned Parenthood offers services that include birth control and pregnancy consultations, STD testing, abortions and screenings for breast and cervical cancer.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the people who were hurt and killed,” Mickelberry said. “I don’t want to get into what our security protocols are, but we have them in place, we’ve talked to our staff and we’ve talked about being alert.”