Measures taken in response to threats
Two security guards will be stationed in the Okanogan County courthouse to deal with a growing number of threats and security concerns for employees and the public.
Incidents involving members of the public who are irate or who act inappropriately toward staff have become more common, causing staff members to fear for their safety, Clerk Susan Speiker told the county commissioners in January.
Speiker, who’s worked in the clerk’s office for 13 years, said the overall atmosphere has changed. It’s now more difficult to calm people down simply by talking to them, she said.
Initially, the guards from Pacific Security will be unarmed, but the county hopes that armed guards can be provided once the certification process is complete. Pacific Security serves other institutions in the county, including hospitals and Wenatchee Valley College, Human Resources/Risk Manager Shelley Keitzman said. The guards will start in March.
Since there are so many entries to the courthouse, the guards will roam the building rather than be stationed in a specific location.
The security guards are one of several responses to the concerns raised by Speiker and her staff. The county has installed security cameras and partitions that shield employees from view. Other protective measures may be added if funding becomes available, Keitzman said.
It’s vital to protect staff and the public in the courthouse, Okanogan County Commissioner Andy Hover said. The county has more money in the budget because of conservative planning and higher sales tax revenues and interest rates, which will help cover the cost of the guards. The unarmed guards will cost almost $55,000 per officer; armed guards would cost almost $70,000 per officer, according to Keitzman.
Keitzman and a Pacific Security representative met with Okanogan County Sheriff Paul Budrow last week to work on details of the security upgrades. The guards will have radios to communicate with emergency dispatch, Keitzman said.
The county is also considering training for courthouse staff to help identify the best response to various events and incidents, Speiker said. They are exploring weapons-detection equipment, which could potentially qualify for a grant, Hover said.
Unlike the old courthouse, the county’s new Superior Court facility has just one entrance and metal detectors, Hover said. The contract with Pacific Security will allow the county to hire an additional guard for that building if there’s a high-stakes trial or other security need, he said.
Safety concerns for staff and the public have been heightened since an incident last year in Snohomish County, where the courthouse was locked down for three hours after a man entered carrying at least two guns and refused to put them down when ordered by police officers.
In light of that incident and increased polarization and the upcoming presidential election, “It’s imperative for the county to have safety measures, but we hope we never have to use them,” Hover said.
Fortunately, there hasn’t been a recent incident, but safety remains a concern for everyone, Speiker said. Every office in the courthouse deals with people’s frustrations every day, she said.
Hopefully, the new measures will deflect any future issues, Keitzman said.