X-ray machine sought for court annex 2 recent bomb threats renew security concerns

June 09, 1996|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

Carroll County officials are working to address growing concerns about the safety of judges, clerks, police officers and the public at the Courthouse Annex in Westminster.

Two recent bomb threats at the courthouse have renewed security concerns. More than 200 prisoners, hundreds of defendants free on bail and thousands of other people pass through the multipurpose building each month.

Visitors now must walk through a metal detector before entering the courthouse, which also houses the court commissioners, registrar of wills and school board offices.

Circuit Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. has asked federal marshals in Baltimore to provide Carroll with an X-ray machine similar to those used to scan baggage at airports.

"If we had [X-ray equipment], we would make use of it for high-profile cases, placing it outside a courtroom to monitor everyone attending a particular trial," said William M. Holley, coordinator for the bailiffs.

Bailiffs seize an average of 500 items every month through the use of metal detectors.

"It's only a very small percentage and most of the seized items are pocketknives, scissors and chemical [sprays], but we found seven people carrying firearms in April," Holley said.

The firearms often belong to lawyers, off-duty police officers and people who have permits to carry them, he said.

But there are other dangerous items, which an X-ray machine would pick up. They include hypodermic syringes, often carried in purses and briefcases by people who have a medical need for them, Holley said.

Bailiffs, he said, are concerned about being stuck in a finger as they inspect purses and briefcases for contraband.

"Most people with such items or weapons will tell us right away what's in a bag or briefcase," he said. "But not everyone."

Holley said no one has tried to carry explosives into the courthouse in recent years.

"Occasionally, someone will have a .22-caliber shell in their pocket, but that is rare," he said. "Having experienced no serious incidents is a positive sign that we are doing a good job with security. Our staff is well trained and very experienced."

Even so, security is a prime concern in the planning of a new District Court multipurpose building in Westminster. That building is expected to be in operation within five years.

Meanwhile, sheriff's deputies who work in the courthouse are eagerly awaiting renovation of the basement holding-cell area where prisoners are held until trial or hearings.

The renovation, expected to start next month, will add three holding cells and two security rooms, making it easier to keep male, female and juvenile prisoners separated. There are now two cells and two security rooms.

"Sometimes we have as many as 30 prisoners here waiting to be called upstairs," said Sgt. Richard Bader, supervisor of court security with the Sheriff's Department.

Security measures will be further tightened with planned renovations at the Carroll County Detention Center, one block east of the courthouse. When completed, that project will end the practice of walking handcuffed prisoners from jail to court and back again.

Instead, deputies will transport prisoners by van into a locked garage at both sites.

Pub Date: 6/09/96

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