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Security a key topic at courthouse

By Marlana Ward
Security in public areas has been on the minds of many Americans as the news of stories of threats and attacks make headlines on a daily basis. Johnson County is not immune to the thoughts of safety concerns, and the county’s sheriff’s department is working with local government officials at the Johnson County Courthouse to better ensure citizens’ safety.
Due to the nature of materials contained and issues dealt with at the courthouse, safety for the people who work and patronize the offices on a daily basis is of concern to local law enforcement. “The courthouse is used for so many things other than court,” said Sheriff Mike Reece. “We have offices in the courthouse that hold a lot of safety-sensitive information. Therefore, the staff in these offices need to be safe and secure as well as the courtrooms.”
The Tennessee Law Enforcement Training Academy (TLETA) traveled to the courthouse in 2017 to identify potential safety risks. The group presented the sheriff’s department with a collection of photos and suggestions for better securing the courthouse building. “All of TLETA’s ideas are very good ideas,” Reece said. “However, there were many suggestions, and we only made the most minimum of changes. Many of the suggestions that were made would have called for a lot more time, changes, and money. The changes that have been made have come at no extra cost to the taxpayers. The monies used on changes made have come from court costs and fines.”
One of the most visible changes made to courthouse security has been the transition to a single entrance leading into the building. In the past, the building could be accessed by three doors, none of which were overseen by security. Now, visitors to the courthouse enter through one entrance and pass through a security checkpoint outfitted with an electronic metal detector.
Whenever a change is made to any workplace or business, there are always reactions from those affected. Sheriff Reece commented on how the staff at the courthouse has felt about the increased security measures: “The staff at the courthouse has given very little negative feedback. Most have had a realization that times have changed and security is a huge issue. Therefore, most of the staff at the courthouse has welcomed the idea of feeling and being more secure than in the past.”
While the staff has adapted to the changes for a few months now, visitors to the courthouse are sometimes surprised by the difference. “The public’s response has also mostly been positive,” said Reece. “We have the majority of the public that is glad to see new security measures put in place even if there have been a few complaints about the changes. We know it is a little inconvenient, but what might take a minute or two to clear security might just save a
life.”
During a recent County Commission meeting, four circuit court judges came to discuss security concerns at the courthouse. While there to mainly address the need to ensure a secured judges’ chamber during court hours, Chancellor John Rambo made certain to express the court’s support for the increased security that a single entrance provides to the courthouse.
“Yours is not the only county we have come to on security issues,” he stated. “When you make changes some people may not be happy with that, and there is some inconvenience involved, but from a security standpoint, the judges appreciate a single-point entry into the courthouse. Our concern is courtroom security, but we are also concerned about courthouse security because if an incident happens downstairs while we have court up here, it is a risk to everyone in the courtroom.”
Chancellor Rambo also addressed the public’s concerns about time and convenience. “It is an inconvenience to the public but lots of things we have to go through in this day and time is an inconvenience to us,” he explained. “It is just an unfortunate state or plight that we are in with security everywhere. A lot of the times we have to give up some of our personal conveniences
to be in a secure place, and that’s where we are, unfortunately.”
Another security concern Sheriff Reece would like to see addressed is the entrance location used for inmate transport. “I would love to see more security within the area of where inmates are brought in and out of the courthouse for court,” he said. “Inmates are just as exposed to being a victim as anyone else visiting or working at the courthouse.”
Sheriff Reece and the local officials at the courthouse will continue to seek out ways to make certain that business conducted at building is as secure as possible. “Changes are not hard to make, but not everyone likes them,” he shared. “The only way for changes to be made is for everyone involved to sit down, work together, and agree upon the changes that are for the staff and public’s benefit.”
“We do not know what the intentions of some will be when they come inside the courthouse,” Sheriff Reece expressed. “We would like to think all people are at the courthouse to attend court or to take care of their personal business at one of the offices. This isn’t always the case. Sadly, there are some with intentions to do harm or commit a crime. For these reasons, there will always be a need for increased security.”
Sheriff Reece would like the public to know that their concerns are important to his department and the staff of the courthouse. “We do not intend to make the extra security measures inconvenient for anyone,” he reiterated. “We know it is different than what everyone is used to and takes a minute or two longer, but I assure you that all of the security is in place for everyone to be and feel more safe and secure. We would also welcome any new ideas from the public about what they would like to see as far as any new safety measures that could be investigated.”