Officials: Security upgrade overdue

Daily Reporter Staff Writer

GREENFIELD — Tightening security at the Hancock County Courthouse is on the priority list for local officials who are calling for a metal detector, X-ray machine and limited door access to the building.

Hancock County commissioners say they would like to see enhanced security measures implemented over the next year. While security has been discussed off and on over the past few years, the talk has escalated since last fall’s murder trial, when temporary security measures were put in place.

Local attorneys and county employees who passed in and out of the building during that time liked what they saw.

“I’ve asked at least the last three years to increase courthouse security and get more personnel over there,” said Sheriff’s Maj. Brad Burkhart. “Since the murder trial and enhanced security there, I’ve been getting feedback from the (Hancock County) Bar Association. … They understand we’re very lax on our security.”

Burkhart said, compared to other Indianapolis-area counties, Hancock ranks low in how secure its courthouse is. There are four entrances with a single security desk in the center of the main floor; other courthouses, Burkhart said, send people and briefcases through metal detectors or scanners to ensure weapons are not being brought in.

Whatever measures are taken will require more personnel, Burkhart said. Currently, there are one or two sheriff’s deputies on guard at the courthouse; he’d like to see that increased to four.

Two guards would work a metal detector at the east entrance, one would sit at the main security desk and watch security cameras, and one would be free to circulate the courthouse and its annex.

“The first step is to limit (entrance) to one door,” Burkhart said. “Then add the metal detector and maybe an X-ray machine.”

Burkhart presented a quote for both types of machines to the commissioners this week.

The metal detector, about $3,700, would light up at the detection of metal whenever a person walks through. The X-ray machine, at $22,500, is a system that allows purses and briefcases to be scanned, with pictures of potential weapons revealed on a computer screen.

Both are important tools to put into place in the long run, Burkhart said, although implementing them could take place in stages.

First, Burkhart would like to see the east side entrance become the only access point to the public, with the other doors locked and used only as emergency exits.

From there, he said, perhaps the metal detector could be purchased and eventually an X-ray machine.

Burkhart also plans to ask for additional employees for courthouse security in the department’s 2016 budget.

Commissioners agreed security needs to be enhanced but made no decisions on whether to purchase equipment. Instead, they asked Burkhart to also get quotes for alarms on the three doors that will be locked. But there’s momentum behind the project.

“That’s something I think we need to act on this year,” said Brad Armstrong, president of the board of commissioners.

Armstrong said that, while last fall’s murder trial highlighted what kind of security could be in place with a wand-style metal detector and an increase of sheriff’s deputies on hand, county officials have debated how to better secure the facility for years.

“As we grow, we need more security as we get worse criminals,” he said. “We’re transitioning to a more urban-style courthouse. We just probably need to be more careful. We’ve just been casual.”

Adding fuel to the conversation is the Hancock County Bar Association, which recently formed a committee to ask county officials for more security.

President Holly Lyons said as attorneys travel to courthouses in other communities it’s clear Hancock’s building is not very secure.

“Just the visibility part of it is, I think, a big deterrent,” Lyons said after the meeting. “If you see there’s a metal detector or someone with a wand, (and) they’re going to check you for a weapon, they’re not going to come in with a weapon.”

Lyons said the association supports Burkhart’s wish list of more employees and equipment at the building.

“We’re so happy that they’re bringing it to the forefront,” she said. “We’re glad they’re considering it. And I think our safety is important, not only the attorneys who are there on a very frequent basis but the public in general. Everyone has a vested interest in this.”