Courthouse security discussed
Marinette County panel looks into issue
Wednesday, May 15, 2013 7:00 PM
MARINETTE - The Building and Property Committee of the Marinette County Board continued Tuesday to explore ways to beef up security at the courthouse.
For the second month in a row an item on the committee's agenda called for discussion on the possible locking of some public entrances to the courthouse and installation of alarms, cameras and metal detectors.
Conversation on the issue at the committee's April 10 meeting was triggered by a marshals' report presented at a courthouse security meeting.
"I know we have a meeting once in awhile with courthouse security and I'm waiting for them to give us direction on which way to go," explained Supervisor Mike Behnke, committee chairman, who in April said one possible security measure would be to close four of the seven public entrances to the courthouse.
"I caution you what you will get will be recommendations to really harden the building," cautioned County Administrator Ellen Sorensen. "I believe this building was built by the taxpayers of Marinette County.
"I believe the taxpayers of Marinette County should have access to the building. There are going to be multiple philosophies out there about how you protect the building. It will be your decision as county board members to make that policy. I'm not going to say it will be easy."
Sorensen reminded the committee that the county has between a $1.4-and -$1.9 million structural deficit so a major obstacle to security efforts is lack of finances to fund them.
"I will caution you that if you put metal detectors in you have to have staff to man them," she said. "What that means is that if you are going to hire people to staff metal detectors, we are going to have to cut something else."
She said after 9/11, Dane County installed metal detectors in its courthouse in Madison, kept them for about a year and then pulled them out because of the cost of staffing.
Supervisor Mike Cassidy said there could be "selective occasions that could require metal detectors."
Sorensen noted that a surveillance cameras system is on the list of possible county capital improvement projects.
"Cameras don't prevent anything," she said. "They might help you catch the bad guy."
Supervisor Bill Walker asked if Homeland Security funds were available to pay for security improvements.
"Homeland Security funds have dried up plus we are in a sequester (mandatory cuts to federal spending)," replied Sorensen.
Facilities Director John Machnik said he would "pull something together" on possible costs to increase courthouse security.
"I think there are other solutions out there," said Sorensen. "I think it's premature to talk about them right now with regard to court security.
"Ultimately that's what you're talking about. Nobody's talking about the rest of the building. We have future meetings set up with some of our municipal partners. We might be able to talk about solutions that could occur in the next five years."
She reported the county has been holding drills to prepare county employees for possible emergency situations.
"We will be drilling for an active shooter, we now are drilling for tornadoes and fires," she explained. "Those are things that were not done before.
"You have to have the work force understand that as we serve the public on a daily basis we also serve the public in case of emergency in one of our buildings. So we are beginning the process of working with the work force to understand how to respond to an emergency, whether it's an active shooter, a tornado or a fire."