Beefing up security at courthouse
Douglas County employees are looking into options for better securing offices in the courthouse and its neighboring services building.
On behalf of the safety committee in March, Heather Schlangen, county senior human resources representative, proposed three items that would enhance security in the buildings and commissioners authorized the following:
● Move forward with getting plans and estimates for reconfiguring the county attorney and county coordinator office entrances for better security.
Schlangen told commissioners, “The public can access [the coordinator’s office] very easily from the main hallway… and the county attorney’s office has a little bit of a barrier [from] public access, but it’s a concern that if [someone is] coming in with a weapon [they] can access the work area easily.”
● Require current main doors and service windows in departments in the courthouse to remain closed and locked from the public side.
“Our committee is recommending that those doors are closed and locked so there is a perimeter on the outside of those offices – not that the public still couldn’t gain entry to those areas – just so there’s a secure perimeter area.
● Close the Elm Street entrance to Douglas County Public Health on the west side of the county services building in Alexandria. The public will be redirected to use the new south entrance.
“There will be just one entrance to that area so it can be monitored better,” Schlangen noted.
County Attorney Chad Larson spoke up and told commissioners, “In working with the sheriff’s office and security committee, there’s one theme that seems clear and that is consistency, both in terms of having a security plan in place and having security measures in place and how to use those measures.
“Currently, most offices here… have some type of identifiable barrier between the public and the workspaces where county employees are. The concern that came up with the committee was that my office, probably to a lesser extent than the coordinator’s office, simply doesn’t have those barriers,” Larson said.
Commissioner Jim Stratton voted against proceeding with the committee’s requests. He said he’d like to explore the idea of making main entrances secure, rather than securing each department.
Stratton said, “This is kind of putting the horse behind the cart and pushing like crazy. I made a suggestion that… when you come in the courthouse you go through a [security check point]. The contrary to that was that we’d have to put all the little old ladies through the system. Well, we’re doing that at Elm Street anyway. They’ll have to go through the front door to get in, so what difference does it make? [A main security checkpoint] would make the building secure. We wouldn’t have to go through this ‘little area here to be secure and a little area there’ to be secure. Make the building secure. I don’t know if that was discussed at the safety meeting but it should have.”
Commissioner Bev Bales said, “Well, we certainly need to look into this. It’s something we have not done and it is going to cost some money, but it’s certainly better than costing lives.”
The courthouse security committee reportedly includes Schlangen and Commissioner Jerry Johnson, Sheriff Troy Wolbersen, Facilities Director Steve Ziemer, Information Technology Director Brent Birkeland and Public Health Nurse Supervisor Carol Meissner.
The committee has been meeting since August to discuss how to improve facility security.