WHEELING - From now on, people paying taxes or fines won't be the only ones emptying their pockets when they visit downtown Wheeling's City-County Building.
On Monday morning, employees and visitors entering the front doors were greeted by a sheriff's deputy and a new Autoclear X-ray scanner with conveyor belt as the building's new security screening procedure went into effect. Between 8 and 9 a.m., when many people were reporting for work, individuals waited in line to enter as those ahead of them had their purses, briefcases and laptop cases scanned for weapons, illegal drugs and other banned items.
Ohio County Chief Deputy Drage Flick said a deputy will be assigned to the City-County Building lobby from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. He said the tighter security procedure has been discussed for a couple years, but wasn't feasible from a manpower standpoint until county commissioners approved the hiring of two additional deputies.
Photo by Ian Hicks
A line forms to enter the City-County Building in downtown Wheeling as Ohio County Sheriff’s Department Cpl. Rod Vaught operates the building’s new X-ray scanner Monday morning.
According to the new policy, everyone who enters the building must place all purses, briefcases, backpacks and laptop bags on the conveyor belt. They also must remove their watches and empty their pockets of all belongings including keys, wallets, coins, cell phones, money clips, pens and other possessions.
As their items pass through the scanner, the person is asked to walk through the lobby's metal detector. If the alarm sounds, the person must pass through again; if the same result occurs, a building security guard will check him or her with a handheld metal detector.
"You may stop the process at any time," a posted notice states. "However, you will not be permitted past the secure screening area until you successfully pass the screening process."
Flick said most people were adjusting well to the change Monday morning.
"At first it's going to be an inconvenience, and we understand that. We're just asking for some cooperation. ... Overall, it's going to make the building safer," he said.
As of now, Flick said there are no plans to staff the lobby with a deputy during evenings when government meetings are scheduled, though he didn't rule it out for the future.
Similar in technology to the larger X-ray scanners used in airports, the unit at the City-County Building, which Flick said cost about $27,000-$28,000, provides detailed images of the objects that pass through. The denser the object, the darker it appears on the deputy's computer screen.
Lighter materials, such as fabric or other "organic" materials, show up green, for example, while keys and cell phones generally show up blue. Guns or knives, Flick said, will show up dark gray or black.
Flick added if an incident occurs, the machine can save the image for documentation purposes, though it won't store images as a matter of course.
"If somebody comes through with a gun and we end up arresting them, we'll be able to pull that image and use it it court," Flick said.
Items which can pass through the scanner without risk of damage include: cell phones, iPods, unopened food or drinks, computers and laptops, iPads and other tablets, 35mm film up to 1200-speed, video and audio tapes, floppy disks and compact discs or DVDs, thumb drives, credit cards and access badges.
The following items are not permitted in the City-County Building: firearms and deadly weapons, explosives, ammunition, brass knuckles, knitting needles, stun guns or Tasers, metallic travel mugs, alcoholic beverages, batons, handcuffs and handcuff keys, large straight or safety pins, chemical Mace or pepper spray, flammable liquids such as gasoline, tools, illegal narcotics, non-prescription medication and cutting instruments.
Flick said all prohibited items must be removed from the building and secured before a person will be permitted to enter, and the building's security personnel are not authorized to hold such items.