Benton County Sheriff Ron Tippett told the news media on Friday that the new courthouse security measures set to take effect April 2 are part of a comprehensive long-term plan to ensure the security of all county buildings and property.
Beginning April 2, all visitors entering the courthouse will have to enter the building via the door that faces west, toward 1st Avenue. All will pass through a metal detector, and there will be two full-time Benton County deputies on site throughout the day.
County Attorney Dave Thompson added that while not everyone may agree with the new policies, “most people will understand” the need for the new procedures.
The comments came during an 11 a.m. press conference in the conference room of the Benton County Sheriff’s Office. Because all three supervisors attended, the press conference began as an official meeting, complete with the Pledge of Allegiance. This prompted a search for a flag which Tippett helped hold while the audience recited the Pledge.
Tippett told the reporters that the changes are the result of years of recommendations by grand juries, as well as months of work and review by a safety committee that has included Tippett, representatives from each county department and Vinton Police Chief Ted Paxton.
The first phase of the new security plan includes the metal detection doorway, which will be wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs. The doorway and accompany wands will cost just under $6,000. The second phase, an x-ray machine for bags, purses, etc., will cost an estimated $26,000, said Thompson. Part of the expense for courthouse security will come from revenue collected from prisoners who are charged the cost of their incarceration, said Thompson.
Thompson also said that the changes reflect a recent order by Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady, which called on counties to create committees to review courthouse security in each county.
Cady’s statement includes a call to enforce “a consistent, uniform, and statewide policy prohibiting all weapons from courtrooms, court-controlled spaces, and public areas of courthouses and other justice centers.” See the complete order from Chief Justice Cady HERE. See an amendment to that order HERE.
While acknowledging that Benton County is among the first, if not the very first, rural Iowa county to adopt such measures, Supervisor Rick Primmer said that the change is necessary for several reasons, including giving Benton County an advantage should state leaders ever decide to do away with the county court system and replace it with a regional system.
Tippett told the press that there have been some disturbances in the courthouse in the past, and even a few arrests, but not any injuries.
The security committtee will continue meeting to discuss further safety measures at the courthouse and other county properties, and may hire a consultant to help research safety issues.
The change set for April 2, was originally announced in a press release earlier this week. See that information below:
Benton County Implementing Enhanced Courthouse Security Measures
Notice of Press Conference this Friday
Today, Benton County is proud to announce that it is taking additional steps to provide enhanced security in its Courthouse. The changes announced today are part of a long process that began nineteen years ago with the introduction of security cameras and alarms and will continue in the future. The changes announced today are part of the County’s effort to continue to provide a Courthouse that is safer for both our employees and our citizens.
Effective Monday, April 2, 2018, entry to and from the Benton County Courthouse will be through the West door only. All visitors to the Courthouse will enter and exit through this door, and the North and South doors will be locked and designated as emergency exits only.
Upon entry through the West door, Courthouse Security Officers will conduct a routine security check that will involve passing through a non-invasive metal screening doorway for the individual; with purses, bags and other parcels being passed through an x-ray machine. The Security Officers will be Deputy Sheriffs, who will be courteous, helpful and highly trained. This security check will be similar to those utilized by other Eastern Iowa Courthouses.
Benton County wants the public to know that the decision to make these changes is being made after several months of study by numerous County Officials, and after consultation with experts in the field of building security. In addition, the steps announced today have been recommended by past Benton County Grand Juries, and coincide with two recent orders by the Iowa Supreme Court.
The County understands that new procedures can take some time to adjust to. We hope that all of our citizens will understand the need for this change and will work with us during this transition. Benton County will continue to strive to provide excellent public service in facilities that are safe for all.