Sullivan committee looking at court security upgrades

J. H. Osborne • May 23, 2013 at 11:21 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County’s Courtroom Security Committee is looking at how to best upgrade — and in some cases create — security barriers in offices linked to the county’s court system in Blountville, Bristol and Kingsport.

The committee first formed a few years ago, after local adoption of a state law allowed implementation of a specific fee to generate money to pay for courtroom security. The fee is paid by those using the courts rather than by taxpayers in general.

To date, revenue generated by the fee has largely been consumed by what was seen as the first step in courtroom security — installation, operation and maintenance of metal detectors and X-ray scanners outside courtrooms.

And “panic” buttons were installed in various court and county offices last year.

But as this fiscal year draws to a close — it ends June 30 — it looks like the courtroom security fund will have about $55,000 above what is required for its current operations.

That’s due, in part, to more aggressive collection of the fee by local judges, committee members said Thursday.

The group has for years cited the need to provide better security in court-related offices throughout the county.

Much of the discussion Thursday centered on adding glass partitions and full-size doors to offices where now the only thing separating office personnel from potentially angry members of the public is a 42-inch-tall counter and a swinging gate the same height.

The county’s maintenance director suggested using wood framing, constructed by in-house labor, to hold in place sheets of 1/4-inch-thick carbon-type glass — although 1/8-inch-thick would be significantly cheaper.

Some members questioned whether the framing should be wood or metal — and if a better plan would be to build up the current counter from 42 inches tall to something higher, and therefore more difficult for someone to have much ability to exert force against the glass partition.

Some said the question of just how strong the new partitions need to be depends on what the goal is: to completely foil a breach or simply delay it long enough for employees behind the glass to push a panic button and give officers time to respond.

The committee reached a consensus to dedicate up to $20,000 to the initial round of installing whatever is decided on. That’s not enough to do all the areas in question.

So the committee agreed to have subcommittees evaluate each location and bring back a recommendation for what type improvements they think would work best — and which offices they all think are the most vulnerable and should get the go-ahead first.

The committee also reached a consensus to set aside $10,000 of courtroom security fee revenue each year to build a capital fund to replace equipment in the future.

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