Courthouse considers part-time security screeners

Four part-timers would operate machines to detect weapons SANDUSKY Erie County officials believe they may have found a
Tom Jackson
May 24, 2010

Four part-timers would operate machines to detect weapons

SANDUSKY

Erie County officials believe they may have found a way to provide better security at the Erie County Courthouse.

They are discussing hiring four part-time workers to operate machines to screen courthouse visitors for weapons.

Weapons screening has often been discussed, but it's been put off for lack of money. Last year, voters overwhelmingly rejected a sales tax hike that would have provided better security for the courthouse.

Another hitch: The county's labor contract with deputies working for the Erie County Sheriff's office bans the county from hiring part-time deputies.

The latest proposal, however, calls for hiring four part-timers who would be employees of Erie County Common Pleas Court judges, not deputies.

Peter Daniel, county finance director, has been asked to figure out how much it would cost to add the four positions, County Administrator Mike Bixler said.

The security proposal was discussed at a recent meeting between the judges and commissioners, Bixler said. The judges probably want to hire retired police officers, Sheriff Terry Lyons added.

"The judges, I think, are serious about doing this," he said.

Lyons said he plans to discuss the matter with the deputies' union on Wednesday. He said he respects the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, but feels he must raise the matter.

"I think if you talk to the judges, the judges would prefer to have deputy sheriffs there," Lyons said.

The sheriff's office has received a $26,000 grant to install close-circuit TV cameras at the courthouse, extending the ability of deputies to see what's going on, Lyons said.

Normally, four deputies are assigned to work at the courthouse.

"Some of those four also have transport duties, depending on what's going on. We always try to have at least one to two individuals there," Lyons said.

On days with heavy activity, additional deputies are sent over, he said.

The Erie County Bar Association has weighed in by asking the county commissioners for additional security.

In a letter mailed earlier this month, the president of the bar association, Kevin Zeiher, asked the commissioners to support hiring the additional four employees and to approve any additional funding needed to install the new video cameras.

Zeiher explained that he included better courthouse security as part of his platform when he ran for judge several years ago and decided to bring the matter up again when he became president of the county bar association, which counts about 100 members.

"Other courthouses I practice in have security," he said. "Ours doesn't."

Safety is an important issue for anyone who comes into contact with the court system, not just lawyers or judges, he said.

Last month the Ohio 6th District Court of Appeals paid its annual visit to Sandusky and three appellate judges heard oral arguments at the courthouse on appeals from Erie County cases.

The bar association held a lunch for the appeals judges, who brought up security, Zeiher said.

"That was one of the questions they asked at our lunch," he said.