By Vanesa Brashier, firstname.lastname@example.org
Recent visitors to the Liberty County Courthouse may have noticed new security measures in place on the west side entrance. Metal detectors and X-ray machines are being used to check for weapons such as knives and firearms.
In the coming weeks, if all goes as planned, the next security measure will be in place with the north, south and east entrances fitted with emergency-exit-only doors.
Liberty County Commissioners Court on Tuesday, Feb. 19, approved the purchase of new doors and locks for all entrances of the courthouse, including card pass systems for the employee and service entrances. The equipment purchase of $48,000 to $50,000 from DataVox will come from the county’s special projects fund, which was budgeted last year.
Pct. 4 Commissioner Leon Wilson said the county is planning to build out the west side entrance to make it ADA-compliant.
“We already have a handicapped ramp there. We just have to build the entrance so it is in compliance. It will have to include an electrical door that opens for the handicapped,” Wilson said. “It will probably be a month before we get the doors installed and have everything in place.”
While expenses for the courthouse security measures must be approved by commissioners court, the day-to-day security operations will be the responsibility of District Attorney Logan Pickett.
Currently, there are three paid commissioned peace officers on staff with two other positions to be filled in the future. The courthouse security team will be responsible for monitoring surveillance cameras and the emergency-exit-only doors, and if someone attempts to exit through one of these doors, alarms will sound off.
Wilson pointed to a felony trial that took place in the courthouse last week as a prime example of the risk that currently exists for courthouse employees, particularly judges and prosecutors.
“We had a felony trial taking place in the 75th District and the defendant, who was already a convicted felon, didn’t want to go through the metal detectors on the west side, so he walked around through another entry and he was found upstairs,” Wilson said. “He had to be patted down.”
Pickett agrees that the extreme potential for violence that exists around court cases is a good reason for the extra security measures.
“There are some things that are done in the courthouse that are routine and benign, such as checking records, getting a vehicle registration, paying taxes and filing for a marriage license, but the places where those things take place are so close to where other more serious matters are taking place,” he said. “If we allow the persons who conduct routine business to carry a gun in the courthouse, it can still make that gun accessible to someone going into one of those more serious situations.”
Another purpose for a gun-free courthouse is so that the armed courthouse security guards, who are all commissioned peace officers, will be able to tell the good guys from the bad guys “when the stuff hits the fan,” Wilson said.
Employee safety is another concern, according to Pickett.
“We can’t protect an employee outside the courthouse, but in here we have an obligation to ensure their safety,” Pickett said.