County hears appeal for added security in courthouse, offices

By Maura Wery

Riley County officials discussed security precautions for the county office building and the Riley County Courthouse Thursday, reacting to recent passage of a state law allowing those with concealed carry licenses to bring weapons into government buildings. Local governments will be allowed to exempt themselves annually until 2018 — effectively allowing them to prohibit concealed carry in county offices —but only if they have a state-approved safety plan in place.

The bill does not apply to local school diistricts, but cities and universities will also have to comply.

Community Corrections director Shelly Williams and Judge Meryl Wilson said the commission needs to take substantive steps to improve security in the buildings.

“I don’t think a sign stops anyone,” Williams said. She said that due to the volatile nature of their work, she would prefer at least a higher level of concealed carry training, a new security system, ranging from $30,000 to $35,000 and two guards at the door in order to keep people from bringing concealed weapons into the area.

Commissioner Ron Wells agreed that keeping the county employees safe was important, but said concealed carry and security were distinct issues.

“I don’t think concealed carry is a problem, but we do need security for the courthouse and the county building,” he said.

Wilson, who was joined by County Attorney Barry Wilkerson, said security for the 107-year-old Riley County Courthouse presents its own challenges.

“In 1906 (when the courthouse was constructed), security wasn’t an issue,” Wilson told commissioners. “Times have changed.” He said courtroom violence “is no longer a rarity,” asserting that in 2011 there was 67 reported cases nationally, about five and one-half cases per month.

Wilson said around when he became chief judge he met with Judge David Stutzman, Wilkerson and Riley County Police Department director Brad Schoen about security in the building, but no changes were made. He said he is concerned that the new law might make the courthouse less safe.

“Last year our staff and judges processed over 9,500 new cases, including 134 protection of abuse cases and 113 protection from stalking cases,” Wilson said. “We see over 300 people a day coming in and out of that building, and the sad truth is, almost none of them want to be there.”

Currently, the courthouse has five entrances but only one guard, leaving most of the building bare of security. Wilson agreed with Williams that the courthouse should be exempt, saying, “A courthouse is not a place for guns or other weapons.” But even if that is done, he said, the security issue still needed to be addressed.

Wilson suggested panic buttons should be put into courtrooms for judges, security cameras should be placed outside and in the halls, and screening procedures should be implemented for those who enter.

Commissioners decided to start the process of exempting the courthouse, but to also schedule additional discussions about security measures.

“We don’t know what the longer term plan is, but this is something we need to deal with sooner rather than later,” Commissioner Dave Lewis said.

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