Major security changes coming to courthouse

David Yates Aug. 13, 2007, 9:58am

Jefferson County Commissioners Court

Soon, the public can expect to spend anywhere from 15 to 45 seconds passing through metal detectors at the Jefferson County Courthouse main entrance while security officers X-ray their belongings.

That was the official word from County Commissioners, who held a final public workshop on Monday, Aug. 13, to work out the remaining kinks in a three-phase security courthouse plan.

"Now the next step is to submit a proposal to the Commissioners Court…and implementation," said Precinct No. 1 Commissioner Eddie Arnold, adding that more than $235,000 in security funds has been budgeted for the security-overhaul project.

The three-phase courthouse security plan came to life shortly after a federal inmate shut-down the county courthouse when he pulled a paper gun on corrections officers July 2. Commissioners had been discussing updates to the system for a few years, but it was kicked into high gear after the recent incident.

The first phase of the plan calls for two X-ray and walk-through metal detector scanners to be installed at the courthouse's main entrance, at a cost of $35,000. Sheriff Mitch Woods said four to five new security officers would then be hired, at cost of $200,000 a year, to operate the machines.

Although still in favor of enhancing security, some commissioners expressed concerns that the new measures would worsen courthouse congestion, especially since up to 500 citizens responding to jury summonses pass through the courthouse doors from 8 – 9 a.m. Mondays and Tuesdays.

Precinct No. 3 Commissioner Waymon Hallmark said he was worried about the public standing outside in inclement weather while waiting to pass through a metal detector.

In response, Precinct No. 4 Commissioner Everette "Bo" Alfred requested an awning be extended around the entrance to help shelter the public.

Texas weather aside, Alfred had a different kind of concern, saying he hoped the county plan did not include having to remove his shoes for scanning like at airport security checks.

District Clerk Lolita Ramos and her staff pooled several hundred jurors and found that the majority were in favor of more security, adding that those against the proposed measures were afraid the county would spend millions of dollars furbishing the enhancements.

"We want to make sure (the security measures) don't infringe on taxpayers coming into their building," Ramos said, while addressing the commissioners.

Various other measures entailed with the first phase of the security plan include ID badges for courthouse employees, 10 new strategically-located security cameras and a bullet-proof glass entrance at the County Clerk's Office.

Sheriff Woods said while the proposed measures might conjure mental images off law enforcement officials "patting down everyone" who walks into the courthouse, the alarming perspective was simply "not true."

He added that the goal of the measures is to tighten the courthouse security perimeter and prevent weapons from entering the environment.

Commissioner Arnold also added that while the measures primarily focused on the main courthouse complex, it was important not to neglect the Port Arthur Sub-Courthouse.

The phases for the proposed security plan are listed in detail below.

Phase 1 – main courthouse complex:
- Secure entrances and exits and identify fire/emergency exits
- Implement security camera system
- Implement security keycard for all courthouse employees, providing different levels of access
- Implement X-ray machines and walk-through detectors at main entrance
- Implement private security guards to operate and maintain security device and provide extra roving security when needed

Phase 2 – Internal modifications to courtroom security
- Establish and implement procedure for emergency broadcast system and alert system
- Install ballistic resistant window coverings in offices and other areas
- Install duress button in offices and courtrooms
- Implement security procedures for each courtroom and courthouse complex
- Establish and implement policy and procedure regarding courthouse security

Phase 3 – Implement security devices and procedures in Jefferson County Community and Corrections Supervision Adult Probation Building
- Establish and implement security plan
- Three private security guards, five days a week working 10 hour days
- One X-ray machine with metal detector
- Duress alarms
- Security keycard access
- Surveillance cameras

Source: Jefferson County Commissioners

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