08/23/05 — New courthouse security measures working well

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New courthouse security measures working well

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on August 23, 2005 1:48 PM

A loaded handgun, ammunition, knives and boxcutters have been seized in the first four weeks of new security measures at the Wayne County Courthouse.

"What this tells me," County Manager Lee Smith said, "is that if people were walking through the door with these items with security guards in place, then what were they walking through the door with earlier?"

Smith said the county's goal in implementing the new security measures was to make the building safer.

"It's money well spent," he said.

Some citizens have grumbled a little about the inconvenience of having to check their cell phones, pagers, loose change and other items to enter the building. But Smith said he has been "extremely impressed" by the reception given by county employees to the new security measures.

Four officers from Pro-Tek Security of Greenville provide security from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. After the first four weeks, more than 23,100 people had gone through the metal detectors on the William Street side, and more than 11,400 had entered from the Ormond Avenue side.

More than 7,000 visitors entered the courthouse during the first week of security checks. Smith said that number indicated many people were coming downtown.

Sgt. D.L. Stevens, one of the security guards, said people who show their weapons, even the smallest penknives, before they go through the metal detectors are allowed to take them back to their vehicles. But Stevens said weapons are seized from others who pass through the detectors first and then show their weapons after the alarm sounds. Those seized weapons are turned over to the Sheriff's Office for disposal.

Smith said he hoped card readers would be installed this week at several courthouse doors so that county employees could avoid the metal detectors and security checks. Lawyers and a few others who are in and out of the building daily also can register, pay $5 to get a card with a photo, badge and bar code and avoid the metal detectors.

When the card is scanned in the reader, the person's identity is recorded.

While federal courthouses have had such security measures in place for years, only recently have they been installed in county courthouses.

Smith noted that panhandlers and vagrants were avoiding the courthouse because of the safeguards. It's not likely that one will be found now inside the building after hours, something that had been a problem in the past.

"I do realize that it's an invasion of privacy," Smith said of the new security. "I hear people comment for and against privacy issues in the aftermath of 9-11. I'll tell you that as an individual I'm willing to give up a little bit of privacy to be safe. ... We're doing this for their security and safety. It's worth it, because we now live in a new world."