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Increased courthouse security scrutinized

By Melissa Crowe
Jan. 23, 2012 at 6:02 p.m.
Updated Jan. 23, 2012 at 7:24 p.m.

Victoria County Courthouse employees and visitors wait in a security line to enter the building Monday morning as a result of enhanced security procedures.

Also during the meeting, commissioners

: took no action on reinstating the burn ban.

approved a $128,689 contract with F. & W. Electrical Contractors for airport projects including renumbering runways, repainting hold markings, signs and lighting.

accepted a $42,030 award from the Texas Indigent Defense Formula Grant and ratified a grant application totaling $37,824 through Texas Bar Foundation Paperless Justice Project, which provides computer software for case files and four touch-screen computers.

Also, Commissioner Clint Ives announced a rural recycling program that opens Feb. 4 in Precinct 4 at the airport courtesy station, 415 Foster Field Drive. Residents can drop off rinsed recyclables from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday at the airport for free. The program is a partnership with Waste Management.

Airports are not the only place Victorians will need to take off their belts, jewelry and shoes before entering.

After an attack on a bailiff during a child support case last month, the Victoria County Courthouse enhanced security procedures to include the confiscation of silverware, small pocket knives and other potential weapons.

Some say the measures go too far.

County commissioners will meet in closed session next Monday to discuss possible changes to courthouse security.

Attorney George Filley spoke during public comment at Monday's commissioner court meeting to offer his services to come up with a solution.

Detailed security searches of courthouse employees, attorneys and members of the public are affecting courthouse business. Delays and long lines affect docket days, such as Monday, the worst, Filley said.

"I ... think that a more common-sense approach can be employed," he said.

The Texas Security Act, which took effect Sept. 1, gives commissioners the ability to amend security measures implemented by the sheriff's office.

For example, the commissioners can issue an identification card that would allow the person to enter without passing through security.

Filley said searches of employees and attorneys are unnecessary and in some instances, "border on humiliating."

He proposed scans with handheld magnetic wands on county staff with proof of identification.

Sheriff Michael O'Connor said the increase in security is a response to the times.

"The courthouse security is the sheriff's office responsibility," O'Connor said. "I'm not willing to compromise safety for convenience."

Judge Don Pozzi said he would heavily lean on the sheriff's office during discussion next Monday.

"If it can be done without jeopardizing any security issues ... I would like to see less stringent searches," Pozzi said.

He said he would not "second guess" the sheriff.

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