Courthouse security needs will quadruple 22 more deputies required for new building

Price of 'progress' cited

High-tech equipment needs more people, not fewer as expected

October 10, 1995|By JOHN A. MORRIS | JOHN A. MORRIS,SUN STAFF

The Anne Arundel County sheriff says he will need four times as many deputies to guard the county's new Circuit Courthouse -- despite its high-tech surveillance cameras, X-ray machines and security-conscious design -- thalding when it opens in December 1996, at a cost of $1 million.

Seven deputies guard the historic, 171-year-old Circuit Court building on Church Circle in Annapolis.

"It's pretty obvious you just can't do it with the people we have over there," Sheriff Johnson said.

County Executive John G. Gary said the need for additional deputies is a bitter pill for an administration already wrestling with voter-imposed tax limits and pending cuts in state aid. It is even harder to take, he said, because officials initially thought the high-tech security measures at the $62.3 million new courthouse would reduce manpower needs, not increase them.

"I guess you can say this is the price you pay for progress," said Mr. Gary, the county's top elected official. "He's going to have to have a major increase in his budget."

Mr. Gary said he doesn't know how much security the county can afford. Administration officials and Sheriff Johnson, a former Anne Arundel police officer who was elected to the post last November, will debate needs and the exact costs this month.

Spending an additional $1 million a year -- an increase of 50 percent in the sheriff's budget -- would be difficult enough under the property tax limits voters imposed three years ago, Mr. Gary said. The tax ceiling limits the growth of Anne Arundel's property tax revenues, and overall local government spending, to 4.5 percent a year.

The administration also expects to lose $6 million to $7 million if state lawmakers cut income taxes next spring, Mr. Gary said. Lawmakers are expected to trim state aid to counties to finance the tax cut. The state tax cut also could affect the county's 50 percent "piggyback" tax, the executive said.

Sheriff Johnson said the new deputies would:

* Guard 10 additional courtrooms. The existing courthouse has 8; the new, larger courthouse will have 18. The new courthouse will be built on the same site.

* Patrol the building 24 hours a day, up from 12 hours, to protect new computerized recordkeeping and case-tracking equipment, along with as sensitive files and evidence.

* Supervise a garage-like entrance used to shuttle prisoners between the courts and jail.

* Monitor new, sophisticated security equipment, including X-ray machines at the main entrance and video surveillance cameras in the halls. The X-ray machines would supplement metal detectors.

Besides courthouse security, the sheriff's office also shuttles prisoners between the courts and jail and delivers court documents and orders.

Sheriff Johnson said he will propose as an alternative to the added deputies hiring "court security officers" instead of deputies, which he said would cost about a third less. However, court security officers have less police training, do not have arrest powers and cannot replace deputies entirely, he said. Three court security officers work at the courthouse now, he said.

Sheriff Johnson said two security analyses of the new courthouse's design have called for more deputies. One, by a Fairfax, Va., consulting firm, was commissioned last year by Robert Pepersack, then sheriff. The other was done more recently by the U.S. marshal's office, he said.

"We believe strongly that there are several positions where we can use court security officers and save some money," Sheriff Johnson said.

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