Courthouse security examined

Published 8:10 pm Thursday, November 5, 2009

Courthouse security is an ongoing topic of discussion in Chilton County Commission meetings, but little has been done in recent years to improve the building’s security.

While some believe additional security measures are needed, however, others do not see the need.

“It’s something we need to seriously look at,” said Commissioner Allen Caton.

Among the most recent additions are security cameras on the third floor, where the courtrooms are located, and at most entrances. Locks were also installed on exterior doors — except the main entrance — requiring the use of a key card.

Those allowed to have key cards include courthouse employees, law enforcement, 911 dispatchers, attorneys and others in the judicial system. Caton said the process of obtaining a key card is not as relaxed as before.

“It used to be so bad that if Hitler wanted a key card to our courthouse, all he had to do was come in and ask for it,” he said.

As of March 2009, a resolution requires department heads to approach the commission in person to request cards for employees. Due to confusion over this policy, the resolution was read aloud at the last commission meeting.

“There are currently 248 active cards,” said County Administrator Vanessa Hendrick.

A committee was assembled last year to look into security improvements and make recommendations to the commission. The three-member committee comprises Sheriff Kevin Davis, Homeland Security and County EMA Director Bill Collum, and Caton.

One recommendation was to move metal detectors from the third floor down to the main entrance. Another was to make photo ID tags for employees.

“Nothing’s been done,” Collum said.

An argument against moving the metal detectors was that long lines could cause people to stand in the rain. As for the ID tags, the county has the equipment but the measure was never approved.

Collum said the county might have difficulty obtaining additional Homeland Security funding because a grant has already been administered for that purpose. But many of the recommendations are inexpensive, “common sense” steps, he said.

“I’m not sure I would say let’s spend tons of money on securing the courthouse,” he said.

Commissioner Joe Headley is against making any improvements at the present time.

“I think it’s fine like it is,” Headley said, adding, “You don’t have to empty your pockets out to go in [Clanton] city hall.”

Even Caton admitted that while other courthouses have more security, many seem to feel that similar measurers are not needed in Chilton County.

“People look at our county as a safe county,” he said.