Courthouse security should be the priority

This week, for the first time, visitors to the Washington County Courthouse used a single entrance with a metal detector, part of an effort to enhance security there.

The total project cost so far is $35,000, and county commissioners were concerned about a cost increase of more than $5,000 from the original estimate for software and a wireless camera. They’ve also expressed frustration that the security update is an unfunded mandate from the Ohio Supreme Court and opposition to the requirement of having everyone searched before entering the building. We understand those concerns, and we appreciate elected officials who carefully consider the spending of taxpayer money.

But we found some comments Commissioner David White made at a recent commission meeting rather alarming.

During a tense exchange between White and Washington County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Mark Warden and Major Brian Schuck regarding the cost change at the June 27 meeting, White called the long-overdue security upgrades “absolutely unnecessary,” dismissing Warden’s argument that we would be naive to think violence in the courthouse couldn’t happen here.

He then went a step too far.

“Will it take an act of violence for you to make a decision to support this?” Schuck asked him.

“Yes, sir,” White replied.

“That’s sad,” Schuck responded.

We have to agree.

Violence can happen anywhere. Courthouses have been targets across the nation because they have to remain accessible. According to the Center for Judicial and Executive Security, incidents have been on the rise at courthouses for years. We can’t just shrug, cross our fingers and hope it doesn’t happen here.

The lives of the people who work at the courthouse and the members of the public who visit it are not an experiment.

We know there’s something we can do to make them safer — the Supreme Court knows it, the law enforcement for the county knows it. It’s not a mystery and it’s not even very expensive. Why is White so willing to take the chance with their safety?

To refuse to act on these security improvements would be in defiance of a court order.

To want to refuse to act on them shows a lack of caring about the well-being of those employed by the county. While White and the other commissioners may no longer have an office in the courthouse themselves, we expect them to still consider those who do.

We don’t want to wait until something has already happened to take action. We’re surprised that our own commissioner does.