Courthouse security screenings going smoothly

Kirk Boxleitner kboxleitner@ptleader.com
Posted 3/6/18

More than a month after security screenings became mandatory to access the second floor or higher at the Jefferson County Courthouse, county staff and sheriff’s deputies agree that the rollout of …

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Courthouse security screenings going smoothly

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More than a month after security screenings became mandatory to access the second floor or higher at the Jefferson County Courthouse, county staff and sheriff’s deputies agree that the rollout of the new screening procedures has gone smoothly.

“It’s worked out pretty well,” said Mark McCauley, central services director for the county, who can monitor all the security cameras from his office. “At a glance, I can tell what’s happening throughout the whole building.”

While McCauley oversees the functioning of courthouse security from a big-picture perspective, Trevor Hansen, chief civil deputy for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, supervises its progress from a more ground-level, day-to-day point of view.

McCauley acknowledges that the screening station on the second floor covers a sizable footprint of the lobby floor between the courtrooms, meeting rooms and other offices.

Yet even during the Feb. 5 public hearing on the county’s shooting range moratorium, which drew a packed house to the Superior Court that evening, McCauley reported, the screening station was able to accommodate all the attendees, both in terms of screening them and shifting its equipment to allow the overflow of attendees from the courtroom to sit in the lobby.

“I’d been concerned that some folks might go up the wrong staircase, but the stanchions and signs on the first floor have apparently made it very clear where they need to go,” McCauley said.

Even visitors coming up on the elevator automatically stop at the second floor, where the elevator doors open out directly onto the screening station.

“Unless you’re one of the personnel who are issued a security card, the only way you’re getting to the third floor is if you pass through the screening and someone with a card enables the elevator to go up,” McCauley said.

The personnel from Phoenix Protective Corp. (PPC Solutions) began conducting optional test screenings Jan. 16 to give visitors to the courthouse a preview of the mandatory security screenings that began Jan. 22.

“The more you do it, the better you get at it,” McCauley said. “How quickly people proceed through the screenings depends on what they’re wearing, how much they have in their pockets and how long it takes them to reload their belongings. But if you have nothing in hand, and only car keys and a wallet in your pockets, you should be through in 15 seconds or less.”

Hansen agreed, reporting a turnaround time of “a lot less” than a minute in most cases.

“When the courthouse docket gets really busy, the line will extend down the top flight of stairs, but never any farther than that,” Hansen said.

McCauley and Hansen have worked with PPC Solutions to ensure that juries have been moved briskly and efficiently, while still preserving their court-mandated numerical order.

“We haven’t had any incidents of people getting really upset,” Hansen said. “The most we’ve received is a couple of negative remarks, but if anything, most of the comments we’ve gotten are about how surprised they are that it took us this long to implement these security measures, which they’ve come to expect at courthouses.”

While courthouse security asks people not to bring weapons or drugs, Hansen reported that security personnel have had to turn away “about a dozen knives a day,” and have found drug paraphernalia “every couple of days,” albeit mostly in the trash cans, where they can’t be connected to any specific visitors.

“There’s not been any difficult level of pushback,” Hansen said. “Even when we do find contraband items, most people tend to be very cooperative.”

Hansen noted that a lockbox is available, just outside the courthouse, for those who forget or don’t have the option to leave their weapons or other contraband at home.

“From a security perspective, it makes our jobs easier, to know that we don’t have to worry about anyone having a weapon on the second or third floors,” Hansen said. “It gives you an extra level of peace of mind, because if you’re interacting with a member of the public, and even if they’re animated, you know you don’t have to worry about them being armed.”

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