• John McGary, Woodford Sun Staff

Courthouse beefs up security

KAY MCCOY, on her way to the county clerk's office, was one of the first people to walk through the new metal detector in the north entrance of the Woodford County Courthouse Tuesday. All other courthouse doors are now locked. (Photo by John McGary)

When the Woodford County Courthouse opened for business Tuesday, visitors had only one way to get in: through the north entrance - and a metal detector. Woodford Fiscal Court began planning to increase courthouse security in July after the Michigan courthouse shooting that left two bailiffs and the suspect dead. The same day, a defendant in Woodford District Court in the Courthouse Annex overturned a table. The next week, the court voted to spend $30,000 to buy a metal detector and install new doors. Grants from the Bluegrass Area Development District helped defray much of the cost. Now, courthouse employees use key codes and magnetic cards to enter through the south and basement entrances. Woodford Sheriff Wayne Wright, whose court security officers will oversee the operation of the metal detector and make sure no one gets by without passing through it or being "wanded," said he knows some visitors won't be happy with the changes. However, most Woodford County residents are already accustomed to passing through a metal detector in the courthouse annex, which houses Woodford District Court and the circuit clerk's office - where people go to get driver's licenses. "It'll be mixed. I know we had it up for a couple of days with the word 'testing' on it and had it lit up, and we were just seeing how everything would configure, and probably eight out of ten people were already emptying their pockets when they approached," Wright said. Wright said the north entrance, by the sheriff's department and the county clerk's offices, was picked because it was the only one that was handicapped-accessible. Come the end of the month, when many people wait to pay property taxes or renew vehicle registrations, that entrance may be busy. "It comes in waves. Election day will be a busy day. There might be days we have to bring more people in to help process, to move them through. Right now we only have one door," Wright said. He said he hopes one day to be able to use the double doors in the front of the courthouse. "We have to start small before we can expand and we want to see how it works. If it looks like this is an impossible task for one door, then we'll step up to the next level," Wright said. Some visitors may be unhappy to learn that they're not allowed to carry a concealed deadly weapon into the courthouse - a state law in place before the beefed-up security. "Until now, you might have walked in here carrying a concealed weapon and we never knew it. It could have been in a purse, under a jacket," Wright said. Wright said people with a concealed carry permit will be asked to take the gun out of the courthouse - while state law does allow people openly carrying a firearm to bring it into the courthouse. "If you bring an open carry, a firearm, into this building, we will escort you to your place of business (until) you leave," Wright said. Wright said people might be surprised at what can set off a metal detector - steel-toed shoes, buckles, aluminum foil in a cigarette pack, even some bras. "We're just going to do the best we can. We don't look for anything out of the ordinary. We're not here to embarrass you or cause you any problems. If you have a detection, we'll try to find out (what's) causing the problem," Wright said. "The machine will tell us where to look." Wright said he hopes people with a pacemaker or artificial knee will alert the security officers, who can then ask them to step aside and be given a quick inspection with a metal-detecting wand. "We're not going to be like the TSA and do pat-down searches," Wright said. Wright said the increased security isn't necessarily due to concerns about terrorism, but rather, people angry about being asked to comply with the law. "If you owe child support, you can't get your (vehicle registration) tags. If you haven't paid your tags or transfers, sometimes you get people upset," Wright said. He said he told Woodford County Clerk Sandy Jones, "'You're the first person they see, so you're going to be the sounding board.' We see that, too - people come in here raising Cain about their property tax," Wright said. Then there are those who'll forget what they put in their pockets, like the man arrested in the courthouse annex the day its metal detector went online. "A guy walks up, empties his pockets and dropped out a baggie of marijuana. And then, he grabs it and sticks it back in his pocket like we didn't see it. I don't know if he just grabbed the first pair of pants he had and put on for last night or whatever, but he forgot to take his dope out," Wright said. Wright's advice: be patient and, "If you can be arrested for it, don't bring it in the building." The Woodford County Courthouse is open Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and from 8 a.m. to 5:30 on Friday.

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