Washington Evening Journal

Fairfield Ledger   Mt. Pleasant News
Neighbors Growing Together | Nov 19, 2017

Homeland Security drafts 13 pages of recommendations for increased security

By Xiomara Levsen | Apr 17, 2017
The south door inside the courthouse has caution tape across it and a warning painted on the door telling people it is no longer an exit.

Changes are being made at the Washington County Courthouse to make it more secure.

The biggest change people will notice is the south entrance being closed. This took place last week.

“That was one of the recommendations that was made in this report that we received and it was one that we felt like was a higher priority item and was relatively inexpensive to do, so the west entrance is now the main entrance into the courthouse,” said Washington County auditor Dan Widmer. “It allows us to have just one point of entry, but we still wanted to have that as an emergency exit.”

There are warnings painted on the south door inside the courthouse telling people an alarm will sound if they try to leave through that door. Caution tape was also installed on the door last Thursday.

“I understand it is a bit of an inconvenience for people — I get that,” Widmer said, “but I think courthouse security and the safety of employees and visitors is paramount to that inconvenience. It’s the age we live in. This courthouse was built over 100 years back, when that wasn’t in people’s mind.”

The time the courthouse is unlocked in the morning has also changed, Widmer said. The doors used to be unlocked at 7 a.m. Now they’ll open at 7:45 a.m.

“People maybe need to be mindful of that,” Widmer said. “You come at 7 in the morning and you won’t be able to get in because the courthouse will be locked.”

This is a part of the overall plan for courthouse security that came after a security consultant came.

“We actually had a representative of the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management visit last fall,” Widmer said. “We have as a result of that gentleman’s visit ... 13 pages of recommendations, suggestions — and so it’s been a job of myself and the courthouse security committee to go through these suggestions and prioritize them.”

Other suggestions are quick and easy fixes and some of the suggestions would take more time and money to establish.

“Some of them are as simple as removing wastebaskets from outside of the courthouse or waste containers,” Widmer said.

The waste containers would be a good place for someone to hide something, he added.

A locked door was also installed on the third floor by the judge’s quarters.

“That prevents people accessing Judge Showers and Judge Mullins [offices],” Widmer said, “that’s the big reason.”

Kevlar was also installed under the judge’s desk in the main courtroom, Widmer said.

Having a metal detector on hand is also being considered.

“Somehow we would need to make a determination, if there is a high-profile case being tried up in the courtroom, that might be the day we want to borrow the metal detector and have someone doing that,” Widmer said. “There’s one available, according to Julie Johnson, the Clerk of Court.”

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