Response to new courthouse security seems positive

The new courthouse security has been in place for almost two weeks and so far, results have been mostly positive.

Starting July 1, when people now enter the one-way-in, one-way-out entrance to the courthouse, they must go through a metal detector.

“I’ve been pushing for this for a few years now,” said Brenda Wolfe, Washington County clerk of courts. “You walk in my office and there’s six of my employees all wide open if someone wants to get upset at us.”

She said as an employee who doesn’t have to go through the metal detector, she isn’t directly impacted by it, but people who come in to visit her office are often upset or aggravated.

“People come in who have lost their kids to divorce or lost their house to foreclosure and think we can fix it,” she said. “They get a little tense and I’ve worried for years about someone coming in and taking care of business in a different way.”

Christopher Wilson, building officer with the Southeast Ohio Building Department, said they haven’t seen a change in the traffic coming into their office.

When asked if he feels safer, he said it was a loaded question.

“Do I feel any safer? No, because I didn’t feel unsafe before,” he said. “Is it a good practice for the courthouse? I’m sure it is.”

He said the biggest challenge for his office is when contractors forget about the metal detector and leave things in their pockets.

Major Brian Schuck of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office said the transition to the new security has gone “quite smoothly” with a total of 2,443 people passing through the metal detector as of Wednesday afternoon.

“Since July 1, that’s a lot of people,” he said. “I think that’s more people than a lot of people realized actually come in to the courthouse on a daily basis.”

He said on Wednesday, about 370 people visited the courthouse. They are averaging 300 people a day.

He said so far, there have been no real complaints.

“There has not been a lot of people that have come through complaining about it,” Schuck said. “We’ve actually had some people that thought it was a good idea.”

He said one of the biggest things that people have had to adjust to is the single entrance to the building. There were a couple of times the first few days when people would forget about the new security measures and go out one of the closed doors, which sets off an alarm. Schuck said they just had to get bigger signs to remind people that although the doors aren’t completely closed off, for safety reasons, they are no longer to be used.

From his office window, he can see people trying to enter one of the now-closed doors.

“Out my window here, I can see people trying to come into the annex and there’s a sign out there,” he said. “They will read the sign, but then bypass that sign and try and get in the door.”

He noted there have only been a couple of instances where people didn’t want to go through the metal detector.

“On one particular day, we had a gentleman come in that looked at it, said ‘do I have to go through that just to go upstairs?’ The deputy said ‘yes, you do.’ The man said ‘I’m not going to do that’ and he turned around and left,” Schuck explained. “About four to five minutes later, he came back and went right through the metal detector with no problem. What do you assume by that? Did he have something he shouldn’t have had? He didn’t complain about it. He went upstairs and did his business and then walked back outside.”

Visitors to the courthouse Thursday were in a hurry, but they said they weren’t slowed much by having to go through the metal detector.

“It doesn’t bother me a bit,” said Mike Vuksic, 48, of Devola.

Kristi Starkey, 40, of Bartlett said she’s in the courthouse every day and doesn’t have any complaints about the added security.

Shannon Lewis, 28, of Lower Salem, said his mother works in the courthouse, so he’s also a frequent visitor.

“It ain’t no big pain,” he said while stopping to chat with deputies. “I’ve got to do errands for (my mom) and she works in the auditor’s office.”

Deputy Jim Malone of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office was working at the courthouse entrance Thursday and said he enjoys meeting with people visiting the building.

“Deputy Malone is a people person and the people love him,” Schuck said. “He’s a good representative for us to put out there to talk to the people.”

Malone said it doesn’t matter who the person is or what they look like, they are treated equally when they come through the doors.

“You’ve got lawyers, people paying taxes, people going to all kinds of offices in the courthouse,” he said. “You’ve got people going to court themselves. So, everyone is equal.”

He said they are mainly looking for contraband such as weapons or anything that can be used as a weapon.

“Sharp knives, anything like that can be used as a weapon,” he said, noting liquids are also not allowed to be brought into the courthouse now.

Meeting people has been a big perk of getting to be at the only entrance to the building, he said.

“I know a lot of them anyway, but talking with different people, I like that,” he said. “Someone’s always coming in.”

With so many new people coming through the courthouse every day, having better security measures just makes sense, said Schuck.

“We quite clearly believe that with the one way in-one way out, the courthouse is much safer, employees are much safer and people from the public who come in to use the courthouse are much safer,” Schuck said.

Michele Newbanks can be reached at mnewbanks@mariettatimes.com.

At a glance:

• 2,443 people have been through the metal detector since July 1.

• Results are mostly positive on increased security.

• Average of 300 people a day visit the courthouse.

Source: Washington County Sheriff’s Office