Incident Spurs County Security Fears

Gila County grapples with steep cost of adding metal detectors to courtroom entrances

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Alarmed by a security breach, Gila County supervisors last week pondered the cost of increasing security measures in county buildings and courtrooms.

The concerns stem from an incident in Globe in February when a visitor slipped through a back door behind a staff member after hours.

During a study session on June 21, the county supervisors asked a committee to study what security systems would prevent future incidents.

Berthan DeNero, the county’s human resources director and chair of the Gila Courthouse Security Committee, presented the committee’s findings to the supervisors. The board will vote on a plan on June 28.

The committee has worked since February to create a list of security upgrades with the intent of preventing violence in the workplace.

The list includes:

• Installing metal detectors at the entrances of the Globe building and Payson courthouse;

• Hiring four armed guards to work the entrance and “wand” those who don’t pass the initial metal detector test;

• Running background checks on all employees;

• Limiting after hour access to teen and traffic courts;

• Installing cameras both inside and outside of courtrooms;

• Using card access doors;

• Installing panic buttons both through phones and wireless;

• Requiring the removal of all objects that could be considered a weapon;

• Keeping statistics on threats and incidents;

• Increasing security for in-custody transports; and

• Limiting access to the three floors in the Globe government offices through the elevators.

“I don’t want to lodge an objection, but I disagree with blocking off the entrance of the building,” said Supervisor Shirley Dawson after the presentation.

Even without increased security measures, some days crowds make getting into existing buildings difficult, Dawson said.

“We bring recommendations to the board of supervisors, you decide to implement. We don’t want taxpayers who pay taxes to then take 30 minutes to enter the building,” said DeNero.

Dawson asked if the committee had a definition of weapons. DeNero said, “Anything used to hurt somebody else.”

As the supervisors absorbed this information, Supervisor Tommie Martin said, “Sounds like we could get way off on a tangent with this.”

Dawson said judges had looked at increasing security measures in the past, but proposals often were so overboard, committees had to go back to the drawing board.

Costs may limit the county’s options, particularly since the state has shifted so many costs to the counties, Martin said.

Adding even one metal detector costs $485,000 in equipment and staffing, said Jacque Duran, Superior Court administrator.

When Martin expressed concerns about the costs, Duran said, “Other counties have attached a fee to every citation. If we attach an extra $20 to every citation given out, we could receive an additional $800,000, according to our numbers.”

Other suggestions include applying for Homeland Security grants and monies earmarked for security by the Arizona Supreme Court.

Faced with the reality of taking action at the next meeting, Martin suggested, “Maybe we need to make decisions in phases. We can take action on the easy stuff quickly. Just having panic buttons installed at our offices in Payson immediately affected the comfort level of those in the building.”

In Payson, Judge Dorothy Little agrees courtrooms need more security. Right now she says, “There is no sense of security for any of the consumers using the courtroom.”

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