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Courthouse Beefing Up Security

The need to beef up security at the Halifax County Courthouse dominated discussion following the board of supervisors’ closed session Monday night.

Supervisors voted to fund six positions that would allow three full-time and three part-time deputies to be assigned to each court in an effort to make courthouse operations safer for all concerned.

Halifax County Sheriff Stanley Noblin said he has been working to improve security at the courthouse for two years, and the judges who preside in Halifax County courts also have sought more courtroom security.

A memo to the board of supervisors presented at last month’s retreat outlined the plan for enhanced court security. In that memo Noblin said the courthouse in Halifax is “one of the least secure courts in the commonwealth.”

Board Chairman William Fitzgerald agreed, saying the historic courthouse is outdated and lacks adequate security.

“This stems from an incident in Mecklenburg County a month ago,” Fitzgerald said. “A defendant attempted to attack a plaintiff, and deputies in the courtroom were able to subdue the defendant.

“The judges thought if that had happened in a Halifax County courtroom, it could have ended up differently,” the board chairman added. “They (judges) asked the board of supervisors and Sheriff Noblin to address the security issue.”

“Many years ago the county purchased two walk-through metal detectors, however due to the lack of manpower, they have never been operational,” Noblin said. “At current staffing levels we still do not have the manpower to operate this most basic security asset.”

The sheriff said the security plan he developed for the supervisors is built on upgrading and improving the use of the existing electronic pass card system to control courthouse access.
“The general public will continue to have unfettered access to the public records and deeds in the circuit court records rooms, and attentive and alert clerks will monitor the public use of this area,” he said.

“Access to interior hallways and office areas will be restricted to persons with pass cards,” he added. “It is recommended that before these cards are issued that the recipients submit to a brief background investigation.”

With additional manpower, Noblin said his office intends to staff the two walk-through metal detectors on any day that court is in session. “One such detector will be at the main entrance to the general district court building and the other at the public entrance to the circuit courtroom,” the sheriff said. “This strategy will allow one detector to service both the general district and the juvenile and domestic relations courts, thus saving substantial manpower costs.”

In the court security plan for the supervisors, Noblin said he plans to add six positions, three full-time and three part-time deputies to be assigned to each court, bringing the total security staff to nine.

Three officers would be assigned to each respective court, Noblin said. Prior to the opening of court each day, the three officers would thoroughly search the assigned courtroom, holding cells and hallways, he added.

Before the judge is seated, two officers would man scanners at the entrance to the courtroom, and one officer would be stationed inside the courtroom, Noblin said.

When court is formally opened and the judge is sitting, two uniformed officers would be inside the courtroom and one officer would continue to man the scanner outside the courtroom door and in the waiting area.

“History and experience indicates that the juvenile and domestic relations court requires special security,” Noblin said. “Here we plan to have two officers in the courtroom anytime the court is in session and an additional officer securing the waiting areas and hallways in and around the clerk’s office.

“This is to satisfy the concerns of the judges,” Fitzgerald said Tuesday.

In addition to the additional manpower in the county’s courts, three wide-angle, high-resolution cameras would be installed, according to the security plan proposed by Noblin.

“We are indeed very fortunate that we haven’t already faced a major calamity,” Noblin said. “It is our sincere belief the proposed court security plan is the most cost effective means to attain a reasonable degree of public safety as it relates to our legislatively mandated courtroom security obligation.”

Sheriff Noblin submitted the following court security cost estimates:
• Personnel (excluding benefits)
Three full time positions @ $28,500    $85,500
Three part-time positions ($12/hr. x 1664 hrs./yr. x 3    $59,904
Total    $145,404
• Uniforms (six@$448)    $2,688 
• Law Enforcement Equipment
Issued Duty Equipment ($2,544 x 6)    $15,264
Hand-held metal detectors (6 @ $149)    $894
• Training ($300 x 6)    $1,800
• Physical Security
Three wide-angle, high-resolution cameras, installed    $3,500
Walk-through metal detector/scanner replacement    $4,295
GRAND TOTAL    $173,845
In addition, Sheriff Noblin included three vehicles @ $19,000 for a total of $57,000, but the supervisors did not approve that part of the proposed security plan.

Noblin said between $4 and $10 per fine comes back to fund courthouse security measures.