Wednesday, February 18, 2004
Security experts say it's not a matter of if a serious incident involving injury or death is going to happen at a court facility; it's a matter of when.
That is the message 14th Judicial District Administrator Evan Herman gave Routt County commissioners Tuesday when he and Routt County Sheriff's Office officials asked that the county employ a full-time deputy to secure the downtown facility.
While the current system has worked for years, there is room for improvement, Herman said.
"The question is, is the current level of security adequate?" Herman said after the meeting with county officials. "In truth, I have to say, 'No, it's not.'"
Two part-time security guards watch over a screening station at the stairwell leading into the courtrooms. Each works about 25 hours a week.
While both do their jobs well, Herman said that neither is authorized to carry a weapon or has training in dealing with people who are violent or carrying weapons.
A full-time deputy would have more extensive training and would be able to carry a weapon, two factors that could prevent something from going wrong, Herman said.
County commissioners heard the request from Herman, Sheriff John Warner and Undersheriff Dan Taylor.
County commissioners decided to research options, including hiring a private security person who is trained to carry a weapon, and will reconsider the issue in the summer. They also decided to replace one part-time security screener -- who is leaving this month -- with another part-time person.
Balancing the costs of employing an extra full-time employee in a tight budget year, which could be an additional $20,000 or more, with the risk of a security breach at the court facility is difficult, county commissioners said.
"How do you gauge that security issue, whether it exists or how much it exists?" Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger said after the meeting. "Do you wait until an event happens?"
Routt County Accounting Director Dan Strnad reminded commissioners that projects and programs had to be cut from the 2004 budget and that deciding to fund a court deputy now would be prioritizing that need.
When questioned about why the request was not brought up during last year's budget process, Herman said that the employee leaving and the planning process for the justice center spurred a closer examination of the security system.
Although there has never been a serious incident at the courthouse, Herman cited a few close calls. During one hearing, someone became angry and knocked over a table in the courtroom, and in another case, a person brought a gun into the courtroom, and the sheriff's office had to respond and take the gun away.
"We have had incidents here, and I think we've been very lucky that we haven't had anything more serious happen," Herman said.