Angel San Juan investigates possible use of private company to bolster courthouse security
Jefferson County Sheriff Zena Stephens is on a mission to fortify courthouse security, but to do so, she's looking to reach out to the private sector and outsource some of that protection.
Sheriff Stephens is looking for consistency when it comes to manning security at the courthouse.
In recent months there have been two bomb threats and it's also the site of a fatal shooting six years ago.
Keeping a full staff has become more of a challenge.
When Jefferson County formally started courthouse security, it centered on retired peace officers manning the main entrance and getting people through the metal detector, making sure they didn't have any weapons in their bags or their bodies.
Although it can be a time consuming process, most of the public welcomes it.
"Not too long ago, you had people bring bombs to places," said Lapatrick Vonner. "Man, think if somebody come here with that. They got a lot of people in here."
Ten years after its inception, Sheriff Stephens has concerns about courthouse security.
"The key was most of the guys that were doing it were retirees who could only work part time hours and couldn't surpass a certain amount of hours cause of their retirement status," said Sheriff Stephens. "That's difficult to find people who fit that mode and who are peace officers."
Some of those security officers have retired again or quit because of illness. Some have died.
"Generally they aren't individuals who have to be here because they've retired, and so it makes it really difficult in scheduling a full staff at any given time," said Stephens.
That's why at the sheriff's request, the county is seeking a private security company to help. Bids were opened Tuesday. The lowest bidder was Lofton Security, but Sheriff Stephens says other options will be considered.
"Sometimes the cheapest fix is not always the best fix when it comes to security and safety," said Stephens. "Courthouses are volatile parts of society."
The sheriff says deputies would continue to help secure the courthouse.
"I'm of the opinion that we don't necessarily need 100 percent peace officers to man that, so we're going to look at a hybrid model," said Stephens.
Jefferson County has an account specifically for courthouse security, funded by fines people are forced to pay when they're in trouble with the county.