Courthouse sees security upgrades
by David Atchison
Mar 03, 2012 | 1039 views |  0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
St. Clair County put up a security check point in the main lobby of the courthouse in Pell City.
St. Clair County put up a security check point in the main lobby of the courthouse in Pell City.
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PELL CITY – After a security expert recommended more than a decade ago that the county position a metal detector in the main lobby of the courthouse, a metal detector is finally there.

“Anything court related, you have to go through that metal detector,” Presiding St. Clair County Circuit Court Judge Jim Hill said Friday.

The metal detector and a metal railing blocking a portion of the main lobby was installed overnight Thursday. The new security measures were in place Friday, with the exception of guards.

Hill, who serves as the chairman of the courthouse security committee, said guards will man the metal detector and check everyone who enters the areas where there are criminal justice offices and/or courts.

“There’s going to be a little bit of an inconvenience, but that’s okay. If someone walked into a courtroom with a gun, it would be tragic,” Hill said. “I am grateful to our County Commission. I think it’s a good decision.”

St. Clair County District Attorney Richard Minor said the metal detector in the main lobby of the courthouse will add to the security of the courthouse.

He said courthouse security cameras have captured criminal conduct, which resulted in arrests, including a theft of property case and an assault on a St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department deputy.

Hill said St. Clair County Sheriff Department deputies are still present in court, but the metal detector in the main lobby will enhance courthouse security.

Hill said the public will not have to go through the metal detector if they have business in the probate or circuit court clerk’s offices. People will also have unrestricted access to the lower floor offices, and the side doors to the courthouse will remain unlocked for unrestricted public access.

Although welcome by court officials, the extra security measures do fall short of recommendations made by a state expert in courthouse security. The security expert made cursory reviews of the St. Clair County Courthouse in Pell City in 2000 and again in 2004.

A.D. Baylor, then Deputy Marshall, State Judicial Security Coordinator for the Administrative Office of the Courts, had recommended that the county established a SCP (security check point) in the main courthouse lobby, equipped with a metal detector and x-ray machine.

“When the SCP is established, other entrances should be secured,” Baylor wrote.

He also wrote that the circuit clerk’s office and other offices similar to it in the courthouse should be secured because of the large amount of money it receives from the public.

“The control of who enters the facility can greatly minimize the risk of disruption, injury or death within its confines,” Baylor wrote.

The 1997 Trial Court Security Plan ordered by the Alabama Supreme Court established “minimum standards” for courthouse security.

“At a minimum, each courthouse should be equipped with a metal detecting device and should have personnel who are trained to operate the equipment,” the state security plan states. “For the safety of all individuals conducting business in a courthouse, the number of entrances to the courthouse should be reduced so that there is a walk-through metal detector at each entrance and people coming into the courthouse can be monitored…”

According to a Courthouse Security Report, Baylor recommended that a minimum of two Courthouse Security Officers be on duty at each courthouse whenever those facilities are open to the public.

The Courthouse Security Officers should be APOST certified with full arrest authority, the report states.

He also recommended that unoccupied rooms be locked to prevent anyone from planting or placing explosives, guns, etc.

“The parking next to the courthouse on the north side, if left, should be changed to reserved parking only,” Baylor wrote before the renovation of the courthouse was completed. “This would restrict who is parking closely to the facility and would help prevent explosives, etc., from being parked next to the facility.”

There is still unrestricted access to parking on the north side of the courthouse.

Contact David Atchison at datchison@dailyhome.com.

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