November 27, 2019 at 4:50 p.m.

Taking on security

County working to add personnel, cameras at courthouse
Taking on security
Taking on security

By JACK RONALD
Publisher emeritus

At some point, you have to stop kicking the can down the road.

Jay County government has deferred the issue of courthouse security for decades.

But now, it seems, it’s finally going to be addressed.

“We live in a different climate, a different culture,” Jay Circuit Court Judge Brian Hutchison said in a recent interview. “I am led to believe we are one of just two or three counties that do not have a physical security presence.”

Security at public buildings has been an issue since at least 1987 when Howard County Courthouse in Kokomo was the site of a bombing. The Oklahoma City bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building re-doubled the urgency of the issue.

While Jay County Commissioners and Jay County Council members would take up the issue now and then, the costs and complexity of courthouse security kept putting things on the back burner.

What’s different today?

“I don’t plan on running for office again,” said Hutchison.

As a lame duck, he’s in the position to push for something that may ruffle feathers and will cost the county tax dollars without worrying about any political consequences.

He’s assembled a chilling collection of about a dozen knives and other weapons confiscated in the circuit courtroom in recent years.

“Usually they’re brought in inadvertently,” he said, though some of them are far beyond the average pocketknife.

In one case, four pistols — those that fired only pellets or BBs — were confiscated. While the pistols were not true firearms, they closely resembled firearms and would have prompted a lethal response from law enforcement.

Hutchison pressed county commissioners Chad Aker, Mike Leonhard and Chuck Huffman on the issue this spring, and the three of them agreed to move forward.

But progress has been slow.

“We’ve met a couple of times,” Sheriff Dwane Ford said of a Jay County Courthouse security committee that was appointed. “I guess I’m kind of the chairman.”

Currently, Ford said, plans call for the north, east and west entrances to be closed to the public. Only the south entrance off of Main Street in Portland would be a public entrance.

Visitors entering at that point will encounter a security officer and a metal detector

“It will be the same style (metal detector) that the school is using,” said Ford.

The security officer, who has yet to be determined, “will be a police officer, a special deputy controlled by the sheriff,” said Ford.

The other three doors will be limited to county employees and members of the legal profession, who will have key fobs similar to those used by Jay Schools employees.

If county employees are aware of a threat or uncertainty while entering, they’ll be expected to use the south entrance.

In addition, some nine video cameras are expected to be installed as part of the security process, Ford said. Price quotes “are starting to trickle in,” he added.

“It costs to do all this,” Ford said, estimating that the capital outlay for the metal detector, the cameras and beefing up the existing handicapped ramp at the south entrance at $30,000 or more.

The larger cost will be the addition of the security officer as a county employee.

Judge Hutchison would like to have the system in place sooner rather than later.

“We’ve had a quote on the doors (security) for a long time,” he said. “Personnel, that was a little bit more sticky. … A camera system is a possible deterrent. But it seems to me that it’s the icing on the cake. I’d rather have the cake in place.”

Ford said he expects the security officer and metal detector to be in place by Jan. 2.

But he estimated it will be February or March before the camera system can be installed.

“Just having a security system will deter people who otherwise would be idiots,” said Hutchison. “Right now, we have nothing. We have four signs. We have less security than the Elks.”
PORTLAND WEATHER

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