Court Security Gets A Boost

Entering the Hancock County Courthouse will soon be a little more involved than walking through the front door.

Beginning Feb. 3, courthouse visitors will encounter armed guards, an X-ray machine and a walk-through metal detector before they are able to enter the courthouse to conduct their business.

The new secure entrance, under construction since November, will bring the courthouse into compliance with modern security standards, Hancock County commissioners said.

“Basically, it’s going to work like any airport or courthouse around here,” said Robert Vidas, executive director of the county’s Office of Technology and Communications.

Commissioners approved the hiring of Jail Administrator Thomas Cox as the new courthouse security administrator. The jail administrator position will be eliminated, Sheriff Ralph Fletcher said.

Cox will be responsible for scheduling and courthouse liaison duties for the sheriff’s department’s new civilian division – 15 part-time officers who will serve as courtroom bailiffs and courthouse security officers.

“It’s going to create a good bit of work,” Fletcher told commissioners.

Fletcher is staffing the civilian division primarily with retired officers or deputies who want to continue working in law enforcement, albeit on a part-time basis.

Two officers in gray blazers will staff the courthouse entrance at any one time: one for the X-ray machine and one to operate the hand-held scanner, Vidas said.

When visitors first enter the courthouse, they will be asked to put their belongings on a set of rollers that will take them through the X-ray machine. Scanned items will be visible on a computer monitor, Vidas said.

While the items are being checked, visitors will be asked to step through a metal detector, known as a magnetometer. If the alarm sounds, visitors also will be checked with a hand-held scanner before they are sent on their way, into the main courthouse hallway.