This year Gila County switchboard operator Bethel Bennett has already fielded two bomb threat calls.
“Usually they just call the switchboard, tell us there is a bomb in the building and hang up,” she said.
The bomb sniffing dogs didn’t discover an explosive this time, but county officials fear the lack of adequate security in both the Payson and Globe courthouses makes tragedy all too plausible.
“Makes me shudder to think folks can get in there and do something,” said Supervisor Tommie Martin.
“These last two threats came within three weeks of each other,” said Public Works Division Director Steve Stratton, “They seem to come in waves. We’re just trying to avoid any future problems,” he said of the board’s vote to approve construction of courthouse security measures.
Last summer, the board of supervisors authorized the courthouse security committee to research the cost of beefing up security for county courthouses. Unfortunately, the Payson courthouse would need extensive remodeling, they have concluded.
Initially, the committee estimated it would cost close to $200,000 to install adequate arrangements. Seeking to spread out costs, the supervisors voted to install security systems in waves. The last two bomb threats highlighted the need to start with the Globe facility.
The supervisors voted to accept a bid from Stanley Convergent Security Solutions for around $51,000 to install card readers and buzzers on doors, elevators and stairwells on the first and third floors of the Globe courthouse.
“Ninety percent of courtroom staff up there (third floor) are women,” said Stratton in an interview. He said the new security measures allow staff to shut down access to court employees and judges in case a prisoner escapes.
Stratton said that installing two walls on the third floor will significantly cut projected costs for card locks and buzzers.
“This is more of a simple and secure solution than I thought,” said Martin after she and the other supervisors heard Stratton’s presentation.
Stratton said adding card locks on the first
floor stairwells and elevators will make it easier to shut down access after 5 p.m. to prevent “tailgaters” from following staff into the building after hours.
Last summer, Supervisor Michael Pastor told the story of a tailgater. He and Supervisor Dawson walked into the supervisors’ meeting room to find a man loitering about after jurors had been released for the day. When Pastor and Dawson asked what the man needed, he replied he was simply “checking things out.”
Stratton said each card reader costs $2,500.
“You can retrofit existing doors and we can control by computer who goes where,” said Stratton in an interview.
When someone quits working for the county, Stratton said employees could curtail that person’s access immediately.
Installing card readers on the elevators will control the public’s access to courtroom offices and the different floors.
The first floor holds the justice of the peace, county offices and a clerk of the court. The second floor houses the board of supervisors’ offices, county treasurer, recorder and assessor. The third floor has the remainder of the courtrooms, another clerk of the court and court staff offices.
“The south elevator transports prisoners and we want to control that closely,” said Stratton. “We will only shut down the north elevator and stairwells after business hours.”