Someone with a badge is going to die today.
Those chilling words were uttered to an employee who answered the phone in a district judges office in Kaufman County this past summer.
In the spring of 2005, Nacogdoches County received three bomb threats. Two of these caused a complete evacuation and closure of the courthouse for the rest of the business day.
Both counties had been discussing plans to implement security measures, but these events, including a trial in Kaufman County in which the victim and suspects families were engaged in a bitter feud, gave county officials pause for additional thought and cause for action.
A Sign of the Times
The events of 9/11 initially prompted Kaufman Countys security discussion.
We had nothing, Gent said. Terrorists could make a statement by bringing down a county government.
The Kaufman County Commissioners Court discussed various options, eventually settling on a new countywide system that is currently in development. One aspect of the system involves closing the two end doors of the courthouse, which will be used as emergency exits, and using one front door for a public entrance and another front door as an employee entrance.
Visitors will enter the building via a newly constructed security room where they will be subject to a metal detector and put their belongings through an X-ray machine, Gent said. Limited hall space would not allow for placement of equipment inside the courthouse without creating lines that would snake through the hallway and likely end up outdoors.
We didnt think it was right for a jury panel to stand outside in the rain to get through security, Gent said.
Initial plans involved moving an existing wall out to allow for the new room. However, the county decided on construction of a glass-walled addition, which is more cost effective.
This will allow us to build without interfering with the integrity and architectural structure of the courthouse, Gent said.
As of press time, the county was waiting for the city of Kaufman to approve a portion of the plans. Once this approval is in place, the new room should be operational in three weeks.
Employees will utilize a separate entrance, where they will swipe their badges through a machine. An officer will be stationed at this entrance to match the picture on the badge with the employee and to ensure no one enters behind the employee, Gent said.
Security concerns involving the recent trial with feuding parties prompted the county to install the metal detector, which will eventually be moved to the new security building.
I feel much safer, Gent said. I feel safer right now just knowing people have to come through that detector.
The entire security system, installed by Guardian Security, will eventually cover all county buildings and county offices. The majority of the cost will be covered through the countys courthouse security fund.
From the Ground Up
The Nacogdoches County Commissioners Court began security discussions in fall 2004 in conjunction with the countys upcoming courthouse renovation project.
Plans include relocating several offices and creating one floor that will house only prosecutors and the courts, said Nacogdoches County Judge Sue Kennedy. The court discussed providing security on that floor along with video surveillance of the fee offices.
However, bomb threats and the shooting at the Tyler County Courthouse in February of this year broadened the discussion that we needed to do more than just secure the floor with the courts, Kennedy said. Additional parties entered into the dialogue, including judges, prosecutors, sheriffs, homeland security director, architect and construction manager, plus other experts in the field. As a result, the county has decided to implement additional security measures beyond the one floor.
For example, a panic button system will be installed in each office.
Most counties rank panic buttons as high priority, said Dave Jacobs with SecureTech Systems, Inc., which supplied the buttons to Nacogdoches County. When a wireless panic button is activated, a message can be broadcast directly over law enforcement radios for immediate response.
Nacogdoches County also will establish a single point of entry that will include metal detectors and security personnel. Other doors will have card-swipe, keyless entry/exit for courthouse personnel, which will include different security-level access.
These decisions did not come easily, Kennedy said. It is unjust that the general citizenry and courthouse employees have to be so inconvenienced because some people have no regard for innocent human life.
But as a court, we felt that we had to provide some measure of protection for those who conduct business and those who work in the courthouse, Kennedy continued.
Unfortunately, the courthouse security fund will not provide enough funds for these measures, the judge said, so the county will be using money from the general fund to cover part of the cost.
Hood County Judge Andy Rash said his 2006 budget will not allow for additional security personnel in the county courthouse. However, the countys new justice center, slated for completion in March-April 2006, will include modern security measures.
For example, personnel will have a key code that will log them into the security system when they enter and log them out when they leave the building. The two public entrances will have security screening for people entering the building. In addition, security cameras will be in place throughout the building and outside.
Whether it be tightening measures in existing structures, incorporating security into renovation projects, or ensuring new facilities have state-of-the-art security, counties across the state are spending more time on security issues than ever before. And thats not just a trend, officials say. Rather, its now a way of life.
Julie Anderson, Editor