MARIETTA - When Marietta Municipal Court moved into its new Butler Street location in June, some new security measures debuted along with it.
At the old Putnam street location in city hall, the municipal court shared the building building with the Marietta Police Department and Marietta mayor's office. The old location had multiple entrances and did not have court security officers, or a metal detector, said Dale Willson, chief probation officer with the Marietta Municipal Court.
"It was not great at the old building," said Willson about security measures there.
Movement toward a new court location started in 2006 when Marietta resident Butch Badgett filed a writ of mandamus lawsuit to force the mayor and Marietta City Council to provide municipal court facilities that were compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In designing the new $3 million court project to fall in line with ADA requirements, it opened up an opportunity to address security factors as well, said Municipal Court Judge Janet Dyar- Welch.
The technology and security staffing at the new location closely follow recommendations set forth in the Ohio Court Security Standards established by the Ohio Supreme Court, Dyar- Welch said.
For example, the standards specify that courts should give special consideration to passive design features, such as the circulation patterns used by defendants, court personnel, witnesses, and the general public.
At the old court facility, defendants and prisoners shared access hallways and waiting areas with court personnel and visitors. At the new court, prisoners are driven directly to a sally port, a secure elevator that transports prisoners to a holding area directly connected to a court room, said Welch.
"The public is never in the same areas with the defendant," said Welch.
There are also rooms designated as waiting areas for victims and their families so they too can remain separated from the general public, she said.
Another new feature is a constant security presence at the court. Before visitors can access the elevator or stairs to reach the court facilties on the second floor, they must first go through a metal detector and submit to a property search by one of the court security officers who monitor the only public entrance to the court at ground level.
Court security officers are all certified through the Ohio Peace Officers Training Council and have a firearm certification. Positioned in the first floor lobby at the new location, the court security officer is responsible for screening the people entering the court for weapons or other prohibited objects, said Willson.
In addition the security officers employed by the court, both the Marietta Police Department and the Washington County Sheriff's Office provide limited additional coverage at the court during times of increased public traffic.
"I've been very pleased with the response. It helps the level of professionalism in the building," said Dyar- Welch of the partnership.
Dyar-Welch said she reached out to the local police and sheriff's offices because they had seen a similar model in another court they visited while making plans for the new court facilities.
Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks said he has been pleased with program and believes the arrangement fosters cooperation among agencies. He also pointed out that the Marietta Municipal Court falls under county jurisdiction as well.
"Marietta is part of the county. Over 50 percent of people who go through Marietta Municipal Court are sheriff's office cases. Also, whenever we arrest someone on a felony, they make their initial court appearance in municipal court," said Mincks.
The sheriff's office provides a permanent presence at the Washington County Common Pleas Court, where one or two officers are patrolling the court during open hours.
Besides the addition of a sally port and a metal detector, the court has also upgraded its security camera monitoring system. More cameras with better quality are able to monitored at more locations throughout the court, said Dyar-Welch.
The court does not have an exact estimate for the cost of the new security equipment because it was factored into the lump pricing of the new facilities. Welch estimated that the metal detector cost $3,000.
Currently two court security officers are on staff, but Willson is looking to hire a third. All court security officers are part-time employees which means they do not receive benefits and are not eligible for overtime pay. Their salaries are half funded by municipal city funds. Because they also perform functions for the probation department, such as background checks, the other half of their salaries are funded by the county probation services fund, said Dyar-Welch.
"We have them doing more than one function. We are training them to take on functions from the probation department," she said..
With the physical security measures are in place, nearly 9,000 people have entered the court since it opened in June.
"I am absolutely 100 percent satisfied and pleased with this design," said Dyar- Welch.
The next step is to develop an emergency preparedness plan, which Welch and other personnel are in the process of developing.