Security cameras just part of drill for county
By Steve Herring
Published in News on October 17, 2010 1:50 AM
The life of the county courthouse plays out on a daily basis on computer monitors, including one sitting on the desk of County Manager Lee Smith. A click of the mouse and Smith can switch his view to any public area of the courthouse.
Just as people have adjusted to having just two public entrances to the courthouse, Smith expects they will grow accustomed to the cameras erected throughout the building, especially since the county is expanding their presence in all county buildings.
"Security is a big deal," Smith said. "It is not just for employees, it is for the public as well."
It is a costly deal as well -- about $200,000 in the coming year.
The courthouse has the tightest security of all county buildings, but even then it is not perfect, he said.
"But it is as much as we can afford right now. I think it is good basic security, Smith said. "When you look at security wherever, it is kind of the old adage that a lock is for an honest person because it stops them.
"If a person wants to get into a facility, no matter what, bad enough they are going to get in. In order to really secure something, you have got to reduce the entry ways. The county caught some grief when the decision was made to limit access to just two public entrances."
People adjusted, he said.
Smith said he realizes that some people consider the ever-present cameras obtrusive and an invasion of their privacy. However, without the cameras that captured the image of the man who recently broke into the courthouse annex, it is possible he would not have been identified. As it is, Brent Mannis, 27, was arrested just 36 hours after the break-in last month.
The cameras also provided valuable clues as to how Mannis entered the building.
"It is speculation on our part, but I do know that in viewing the DVR (digital video recorder) that (pass) cards were used on that evening at approximately 7:12 in the evening and less than 30 to 45 seconds later I view him on the camera, attempting to use the register of deeds door," he said. "He came in through the back door. What I think is that an employee door was utilized using some sort of a pass card, stolen pass card or a pass card from another security system."
There are security systems all over the country, many of which, like Wayne County, use pass cards, he said.
"If you drive around a community long enough with a garage door opener, you are going to find somebody with that garage door code that is going to open that door," he said. "What I am saying is there is nothing that is foolproof or fail-safe. It is going to happen."
The county regularly checks for missing pass cards, and when employees leave, their card is deactivated. Smith said from what he knows that he sees no basis for thinking any cards were found on the suspect.
"He did not come through the front doors," he said. I have viewed it for 12 hours prior. He did not come through them. I am thrilled we had the cameras on the hallways and the Sheriff's Office did a great job in capturing the guy."
The door had not been latching properly and was repaired the day before the break-in. Smith does not think the door was left ajar.
A few days after the break-in, Smith sent out an e-mail to all employees and all occupants of the courthouse advising them to be cautious when using the employee doors.
Smith said that during his time with the county he has gone into the courthouse after hours and found people who were not supposed to be there.
"These were people who had obviously hidden out, a couple were vagrants sleeping on one of the catwalks," he said.
He warns employees to be aware of their surroundings when they are in the courthouse after hours.
"Overtime has to be approved and if they are coming into the courthouse they have to let someone know they are coming in. For my staff it is a mandate."
The camera catches more than intruders.
"We have had people who have attempted to sue the County of Wayne the last three years by falling as they come into the building," Smith said. "We have witnessed people lying down on the sidewalk. They didn't fall. It saved taxpayers millions. We have seen people (who said they couldn't walk) healed and walking."
Cameras are currently stationed primarily in the main areas and are not in offices and restrooms.
The next step is to put cameras in courtrooms so that the county can record people who damage county property during court.
"Some of the benches look horrible," Smith said. "People come in and carve into them obscenities and 'Bob was here in 1999,' whatever. I want people to know that if we find you doing that, our judges are prepared to bring about charges and we are going to prosecute for damages because it costs us a lot of money to maintain these facilities."
And cameras are not the only security measures in place at the courthouse.
Smith said he realizes it is an inconvenience to come into the courthouse and have a purse searched or be told to take your great-great-grandfather's penknife back to the vehicle. He said signs notifying the public about security measures have been moved further from the door to give people more advance notice about security
"If you walk into the building with a weapon that is identified, we will actually take the weapons and those weapons are destroyed," he said. "You cannot get them back. There is a reason for that. We are trying to make people safe. Particularly in court, other offices have issues, but particularly in court, people are very emotional and things can get out of hand and the only way that we can do it is to secure the entrances."
More security is being added at the landfill and airport.
"It is just the way of the world," Smith said. "In some cases, we use court facilities money. In other cases, we use money, like at Department of Social Services for security guards, we are able to draw down from the state and federal dollars will pay that."
County commissioners recently appropriated $42,000 for new computer servers, so as not to interfere with regular county business, he said.
"Video required a lot of space on servers. Court facilities (revenues) are helping to pay for some of that," Smith said.
Also, the county is beginning to phase out older cameras.
"Ones that will be coming over the next few years we will be able to click on it, zoom in and actually be able to read an ID card," Smith said. "We will be able to see details. Luckily, the gentleman that broke into the courthouse we had one of the better cameras and we saw him clearly. That was one of the newer cameras. They range anywhere from $1,200 to $1,800.
"All of our cameras now have the ability that when there is movement, they come on. As soon as there is light or movement they start filming and they continue as long as there is movement or in some cases, sound. In some we will be adding to our ability to hear what is going on."
Certain cameras are monitored at all times, he said.
"It is costing about $150,000 county-wide a year on security. That includes the security guards and some equipment. This year it is going to be higher because of the new equipment, so it is probably going to push $200,000.
"I look at just at one issue of a person who says they might have been injured on our property that may have been attempting to commit fraud. That could save us hundreds of thousands. If just one of those cameras saves you for several years, it was worth it."
Other plans include improved lighting around the courthouse.
"People need to use common sense when they come into the courthouse," Smith said. "When you are a visitor to the courthouse during operating hours, you need to aware of your surroundings."
Smith added that he hopes the security measures the county has in place will be enough.
"When people go to most federal buildings now you must sign and tell them where you are going," he said. "NCDOT people you are going to see have to know that you are coming and they give you a visitor's pass. I hope we never have to go to that."