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County beefs up courthouse security

By Kristen Tribe | Published Wednesday, May 29, 2013

In a continuing effort to better protect the people who use the Wise County Courthouse, the county is hiring two new security employees.

“A bunch of people will think this is a knee-jerk reaction to what happened in Kaufman County,” Sheriff David Walker told the Messenger, “but in all honesty, we were discussing it well before that and even years before. We’re trying to make the courthouse a much more secure atmosphere for prosecutors, defense attorneys and the public … everybody that’s up there.”

The new personnel will be in addition to court bailiffs Kirk Gibson in County Court-at-Law No. 1 and Dick Wood in District Court. Jason Ingram is bailiff for County Court-at-Law No. 2 in Bridgeport.

“They’ll be two separate groups, but all are still licensed under the Sheriff’s Office and still have to work together as one team,” Walker said.

While the bailiffs are in court, the new security personnel will monitor the hallways and help direct foot traffic when court is over. Walker said when court is not in session, they’ll check in at other county buildings and provide security as needed.

The issue of new personnel was discussed at Tuesday’s county commissioners meeting, and the decision comes from the ongoing work of the courthouse security committee, which includes County Judge Bill McElhaney, District Judge John Fostel, County Court-at-Law No. 1 Judge Melton Cude, Walker, Captain Kevin Benton and Chief Deputy Doug Whitehead.

Walker said the group is still looking into the technical side, and they have discussed the possiblity of bringing in portable X-ray machines and metal detectors for high-profile cases or one in which there are potential threats.

He said it would be difficult to install permanent detectors due to the age of the building, and any changes made to the structure would have to be approved by the Texas State Historical Commission. The granite structure, built in 1896, has five separate entrances, and civilian and inmate foot traffic is mixed.

“The courthouse is beautiful, but it’s just not set up for that,” said McElhaney. “The extra security will help.”

The courthouse currently has surveillance cameras, and commissioners approved in March drafting a bid description for a more advanced system that would link the systems to the Bridgeport and Boyd courthouse annexes, all of which could be monitored remotely.

Also in March, the courthouse was closed to meetings after 5 p.m.

“It’s no secret the county has outgrown the courthouse and in the years to come, the county will have to build a courthouse annex … doing that would be a modern building with security in mind,” said Walker.

OTHER BUSINESS

Commissioners approved a roadway project agreement for the City of Chico at the request of Precinct 2 Commissioner Kevin Burns. He plans to work on Kentucky Road, which starts in the city limits and goes into the county.

Burns also reported that work to clear the right-of-way at County Road 3431 and Hlavek Road is complete. He said the landowner will replace the fence, but Burns plans to put a corner brace on the property. That will make the corner part of the right-of-way, enabling the county to mow it.

Commissioners accepted the following donations: $269.50 to the county animal shelter from Cans for Canines; $300 from Sycamore Cemetery and $750 from Alvord Cemetery to Public Works; $750 to Emergency Medical Services from Bridgeport PRCA Rodeo; and $100 to the Sheriff’s Office Easter egg hunt from Maugarette Roberts.

Commissioners also approved:

  • the purchase of an investigator’s vehicle for the district attorney’s office;
  • rescinding an interlocal agreement with Denton County for roadwork on County Line Road;
  • the final plat of The Homes at Woodland Creek in Precinct 2; and
  • the final plat of Pietila 6 Addition, Lots 1-5 in Precinct 2. Burns said one of the lots is for commercial development and will need further drainage study when it’s sold.
  • County commissioners’ next regular meeting is 9 a.m. Monday, June 10, in the third-floor conference room of the Wise County Courthouse in Decatur.

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