ROGERSVILLE — Hawkins County courtroom security will be a bit tighter from now on with the installation last week of new walk-through metal detectors at the entrance of each courtroom.
In the past, deputies have used metal-detecting wands regularly at the entrance of Hawkins County Sessions Court and occasionally in the circuit and chancery courtrooms when highly emotional cases were being heard.
Thanks to a state grant that paid the majority of the costs, Hawkins County recently acquired six walk-through metal detectors.
There are now two new metal detectors at the entrance of the circuit courtroom — one at the stairwell and one at the annex breezeway.
There is also a lone metal detector for the sessions/juvenile court, the chancery court, and the Church Hill courtroom, as well as one that will be used in the jail for training and to screen incoming prisoners.
Courtroom security upgrades have been discussed in Hawkins County for years, but until a grant was received from the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts, a security upgrade wasn’t economically feasible.
“In today’s world things are getting much worse, and obviously you hear of courtroom security being lax in different places where things have happened,” Sheriff Roger Christian said Monday. “Beefed up courtroom security is something the state is advocating and was willing to provide some grant funding for. And these machines do work.
“If you’ve got more than a few keys or coins in your pocket, the alarm will go off. Obviously it’s going to detect knives, guns and other weapons as well.”
A preliminary plan discussed by the Hawkins County Commission’s Safety Committee and Buildings Committee was to purchase only a couple of machines and place them in the courthouse annex breezeway entrances.
That plan would have been less expensive but also would have required closing public access to the main courthouse and courthouse annex at several other doors, which county leaders ultimately decided would be too inconvenient.
When the new Justice Center is completed, most of the metal detectors will be moved there, although chancery court and its machine will remain in their current location.
Items that aren’t allowed in the courtrooms — aside from the obvious weapons — include pocketknives, cell phones and pocketbooks.
Deputy Michelle Bean, who was operating the sessions court machine Monday, said the metal detector has been well-received by people entering court thus far.
She’s found one pocketknife in the first three days, mainly because people see the machine and return to their car to store items that wouldn’t be acceptable.
Most often the alarm has been set off by keys. Bean said one person set off the alarm with steel toe boots.
Any comments thus far have been positive by people who said they believe the courtrooms are now safer, Bean added.