County beefing up courthouse security

A major change to enhance Monroe County Courthouse security is slated to start March 6, when single-door public access to and from the building begins.

While it brings some inconvenience for the public, this change is focused on improving the safety of courthouse employees and the visiting public.

“That’s our first priority: employee and public security and safety,” said Monroe County Sheriff Neal Rohlfing.

Monroe County is the last of area courthouses to initiate restricted access to its governmental headquarters. Virtually all limit public entry and departure to a single entrance for security and safety.

Numerous high-resolution security monitoring cameras have recently been installed throughout and on the outside of the building. While employees will be able to enter and leave with pass key cards, the public will have to enter and leave via the north door on the Mill Street side.

A desk, manned by an armed Monroe County Sheriff’s Department deputy, will be staffed during all hours the building is open to the public. A metal detector will be located adjacent to the desk, and all visiting public will have to pass through it upon entering the building.

The deputy will be able to monitor activities on the cameras and focus on a single-view to more closely observe any questionable activity.
Rohlfing walked the Republic-Times through the new system and answered questions about what it does and why it is being implemented.

“I know some will question the need for this in what has been a close-knit, friendly county for decades,” Rohlfing said. “But we live in a changing world.  This decision has been under review for some time, and a committee carefully weighed the pros and cons before implementing this step.

“The courthouse is busier these days, and threats on government buildings and people are becoming more frequent nationwide.”

A first step in enhancing courthouse security took place last year. That was assigning MCSD deputy Justin Braun to full-time security duty in the building during regular operating hours.  Hours of public access were also made more limited at that time, ending almost all after-hours activities there.

Braun will remain on full-time assignment at the courthouse, and will be supplemented by retired deputies returning in a part-time status when court is in session, Rohlfing explained.

Signage will arrive soon, alerting the public to the coming change. Signs will direct people parking on the east, south and west sides of the building to the north door.

Rohlfing said employees who have routinely parked on the building’s north side are being asked to move to the other three sides, where they have key card access.  He also noted that many people are not aware there is additional parking across Mill Street behind the Regional Office of Education and across Market Street adjacent to Outsiders Tavern.

The only possible delay now may be due to the need to replace the handicapped access ramp on the north side of the courthouse. It is only an inch-thick slab and is crumbling.

The county commissioners approved a contract Monday with Huebner Concrete to remove the existing ramp and platform, and replace it with five-inch-thick concrete pavement.

Weather could delay that, which would in turn push the slated March 6 start to limited public access.

Additional surveillance cameras are being considered as the new security measures are being put in place. Rohlfing said the system has added capacity, and if they find areas that require additional scrutiny, they can install it.

He cited as an example one area outside the courtrooms, that was a blind spot, but which is now scrutinized by two added separate cameras.

The sheriff asked the public to be patient and to allow a little added time when coming and going, so they can be accommodated through the new security system.

He reminded residents that not only will they then have to enter through the north door, they will also have to leave the same way.

Rohlfing reiterated that his top priority is employee and public safety.

“You cannot implement that after an incident,” he said.

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Alan Dooley

Alan is a photojournalist -- he both shoots pictures and writes for the R-T. A 31-year Navy vet, he has lived worldwide, but with his wife Sherry, calls a rambling house south of Waterloo home. Alan counts astronomy as a hobby and is fascinated by just about everything scientific.
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