By Terri Ferguson Smith / firstname.lastname@example.org
The Meridian Star
Security changes are in the works at Lauderdale County Courthouse.
Sheriff Billy Sollie is working to outsource security at the ground floor elevators in the courthouse. Within a couple of weeks, a private security firm will provide a guard for the elevators. Currently a county deputy is on guard there when the courthouse is open for business.
The sheriff would rather use his deputies for other duties.
"It's difficult to find a veteran law enforcement officer who is willing to sit at a magnetometer (metal detector) eight to 12 hours a day," Sollie said. "The per hour rate is cheaper than hiring a veteran officer and paying the fringes."
Sollie said there will still be certified officers in the courtrooms at the courthouse who are readily available to respond if summoned, to the metal detector.
But Lauderdale County District 4 Supervisor Joe Norwood, president of the board of supervisors, would like to take courthouse security a step further. There is always a deputy in front of the elevators in the courthouse to make sure that people go through the metal detectors but there is no guard in front of the stairwell or at the three entrances used at the courthouse.
There are several ground floor offices that can be accessed through the front or two side doors where there are no security checkpoints. Norwood favors closing off the two side doors and moving the security checkpoint to the front of the building so everyone will go through the metal detector.
"Security is only being used for the elevator," Norwood said. "If you're going to use security, get the maximum benefit out of your security."
Norwood brought up the issue Monday at a meeting of the board of supervisors, saying he wanted the board to think about it. They took no action on the matter of closing the side entrances.
Sollie said that is an idea that is worth considering.
"Having that as a single point of entry would certainly aid in the searching of packages and purses; and securing the courthouse," Sollie said.
Sollie said there are continuous talks about what needs to be done to secure the people who use the courthouse. Among those is the plan to get county employees to wear photo IDs so they will be easily identifiable to security officers. Many other businesses require employees to wear photo IDs, he said.
"It's just good security practice for that to happen," Sollie said.
County employees will have to park somewhere other than around the courthouse as a result of action taken Monday by the supervisors.
Lauderdale County District 3 Supervisor Josh Todd brought a motion before the board to require county employees to use county parking lots instead of parking at the courthouse and the annex building across the street.
"Parking is limited anyway. I've heard several people in District 3 and in Lauderdale County talk about that they try to find a parking place and they can't," Todd said. "They pull up and they see 10 county vehicles parked there. I know it's going to be an aggravation. I know it's handy to park there and get out and go to work."
Some people end up circling the block for five or ten minutes, he said, and eventually parking blocks away from the courthouse.
The county parking lots are being re-striped and Mississippi Power is adding lighting for the safety of employees who leave the courthouse and annex building after dark, Todd said.