Douglas County residents can expect tighter security with shorter wait times entering the Douglas County Courthouse in the foreseeable future.
An update on the plan to improve courthouse security was presented Monday to the Douglas County Board of Commissioners during its work session.
Retired Douglas County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Stan Copeland, who is contracting with Comprehensive Program Services (CPS) as an operational and security consultant, has been working with different sectors of county administration, judicial and law enforcement to focus on the courthouse security issue for the past six months, he said.
The BOC voted to approve the courthouse security project on Nov. 1, 2016, according to County Administrator Mark Teal.
According to the agreement, CPS will provide full planning, design, procurement assistance and construction administration of the new security screening area, coordination with the solictor general program requirements (existing tax/tag office) and the perimeter access road.
Plans are in place for the solicitor general’s office to relocate to the current tax/tag office in the courthouse once the tax/tag office moves into the former Bleakley RV building on Fairburn Road.
The project agreement also indicated that the perimeter access road leading to the vehicular sallyport at the rear of the courthouse building will be closed to public vehicles and a gated yard will be designed with additional parking.
“The courthouse is 20 years old and was constructed at a different time,” said Copeland. “We looked at two major issues: that its security is very poor by design—but not by effort. The court system gives security staff an A+ despite the designs of the courthouse.”
If the BOC approves the plan, everyone entering the courthouse for any reason will be screened.
Copeland said the other issue was that at the time the courthouse was built, the court staff was much smaller.
“We have one security station to get people through to the court system,” Copeland explained. “Often they call jurors 200 at a time. The purpose is to bring the courthouse up-to-date and allow much faster screening. One screening station is backing people up and it has become a concern of the judges.”
The proposal, if approved, would expand the lobby area at the main entrance of the courthouse to accommodate multiple screening stations, very much like at the airport, said Copeland.
He said, “The only way to secure an area is to make only one entrance so proper screening can be done.”
Additional security measures include monitored cameras throughout the courthouse and a plan yet to be decided for secured parking areas.
He told the commissioners, “Anytime you look at court security, you have to give up some convenience. I think we’ve addressed the issues. It puts in place the ability of the sheriff to screen people as necessary. It allows them to open screening areas at peak times and put deputies into other duties.”
“The goal is to maximize space and minimize cost of personnel,” Copeland said.
If approved, the “Truth” and “Liberty” side entrances will be secured from entry and only used for emergency evacuation, according to Copeland.
Once the screening area is moved, the courthouse will no longer be a “split courthouse.”
Copeland said that once in place, it does away with the separation.
“Once you clear screening, it will be open to go into both administration and courts,” he said.
“This is a great time to do this with the tax and tag office moving to the Bleakley building,” he said. “We will need to take some of that space for screening stations.”
The timeline of the proposed security project also depends upon completion of the Bleakley building renovation and coordination with the tax and tag office move.
“This allows the architect to do the drawing and look more closely for what the budget will be for the work,” Copeland said.
Once the tax and tag offices are vacated and moved into the Bleakley building, the courthouse security project could take four to six months to complete, due largely to the procurement of specialized materials needed. The build-out itself is expected to take four to six weeks to completion, Copeland said.