Starting as early as today, four part-time security guards will man the front door at the Erie County Courthouse with a metal detector machine to back them up, said Family Court Judge Robert DeLamatre.
On Friday the machine was installed and guards started training, he said.
"They're there to make sure weapons don't enter thecourthouse," DeLamatre said, adding the screeningprocess will take some time to become routine for bothcourthouse employees andvisitors.
The idea to have security guards came from a 2000 courthouse security assessmentconducted by a firm out of Denver, Colo., said Mike Bixler, Erie County administrator.
Some of the ideas outlined in the policy manual are just now being implemented.
Last year was the first time since the assessment thatcounty commissioners approved enough funding to pay people to man the metal detector, DeLamatre said.
Right now plans are to implement what the assessment called for. Later on changes could be made -- including looking at whether the security guards should be armed or have the power to arrest people.
"A lot of discussion was on the procedures currently in the manual and updating issues," Bixler said.
Officials from the court, sheriff's office, commissioners and Erie County bar association met Thursday to discuss the most recent developments in the implementation of the security.
"There was an issue in regards to whether or not they should be full-time deputies," said Tom Ferrell, Erie County commissioner. "It was a compromise ... on how to effectively do this in the most cost-effective manner."
Both Ferrell and DeLamatre have compared the new courthouse security to that at airports, where metal detector operators are unarmed, but have the ability to call in help if needed from armed agents.
"It is very consistent with security protocols that are used in other courthouses, other state buildings," DeLamatre said.
The Erie County Courthouse is manned by four full-time deputies, although they take turns leaving the building to transport prisoners.
"If we were going to add some additional (deputies), we would prefer to see them out on the road," Ferrell said of the consensus reached.
If the security guards were deputies, they could easily be called out of their courthouse capacity to man the roads, for backup or for help with large events such as Bike Week, Ferrell said. That would leave a courthouse with a metal detector unmanned.
In addition, the four part-time security guards are employees of the presiding judge, DeLamatre, and therefore would not be called off duty, Ferrell said.
Last month a metal detector at Sandusky Municipal Court was put into operation, along with an armed police officer to operate it. The decision to do so came from findings in a security assessment conducted on the facility, said Sandusky police Chief Kim Nuesse.
"The thought was that if you are screening people for weapons, if you have somebody come through that has one, you want somebody that has the ability to defend and protect," she said. "...somebody (with) arrest powers and experience dealing with people and reading situations."
Two bomb threats at the county courthouse last summer re-ignited interest in upping security, Ferrell said.
"That made everybody realize we had to do something," he said.
A look at some of our neighbors' courthouse security
Ottawa County Courthouse:
One full-time deputy present at all times. Additional deputies assigned as needed. Metal detectors in place, used when needed. Cameras throughout the courthouse, monitored regularly. Sheriff's department and courthouse in same building. Extra deputies easily accessible when needed.
Sandusky County Courthouse:
One full-time deputy present at all times. Some probation officers are armed. Two civil officers are armed. Metal detector in place, used when needed. Handheld metal detectors used when needed. Police department in close proximity for backup if needed. Deputies called in as backup if needed.
Seneca County Courthouse:
One full-time deputy present at all times. Metal detector in operation at entrance at all times, manned by the deputy. Cameras throughout the courthouse, monitored regularly. Additional deputies assigned as needed. Soon will be adding a second full-time deputy to man the juvenile court.
Source: Area county sheriffs