AUBURN — Androscoggin County leaders are in talks with Maine court security officials to lock down the county courthouse about half the time, funneling all public traffic into the front entrance and through a metal detector.
The aim is to make the entire courthouse safer, said Michael Coty, the director of Judicial Marshals and Emergency Services for Maine’s court system.
Currently, only the building’s courtrooms have security. Uniformed court officers scan people with a hand-held metal detector.
“What we’re trying to do is minimize the ability of somebody to come into the courthouse with an agenda to do harm, but also to prevent somebody from having something in their possession that somebody else can use,” Coty said.
Statewide, the court system is trying to beef up security. Two years ago, budgets were raised to increase court screening from 20 percent to 50 percent.
“Courthouse security has improved. It’s not where it needs to be,” said Mary Ann Lynch, government and media counsel for the Maine’s court system.
“Our goal is to be at 100 percent entry screening. That’s where we should be. That’s where most courts in the country are. It’s where we need to be to protect Maine people,” she said.
On Feb. 6, Androscoggin County commissioners voted unanimously to listen to proposals from the state to share some costs on the security upgrade. Though most costs would likely fall on the state, the county could be asked to make modifications to doors and install electronic access to the building for employees.
“We’ll handle this bit by bit, as long as we can afford it,” Commissioner Elaine Makas, who leads the county’s safety committee, said.
She worries that the current level of security is too light.
“We can’t make believe we’re not part of the real world,” she said. “The real world is dangerous at times.”
Security has been increasingly discussed as the building has been examined in recent years for renovation.
With little space, criminals and their victims must wait for court in the same aisles and corridors, she said.
Another common complaint is the regular movement of inmates from the county jail to the courtrooms using public hallways. The inmates are shackled and escorted by sheriff’s deputies, but the close proximity to the public is worrisome, Makas said.
It’s an issue that wouldn’t be dealt with in the current initiative.
“In these tough economic times, we have to be really respectful of our taxpayers,” Makas said. “We need to make sure that we’re spending money wisely and making improvements incrementally.”
Distributed by MCT Information Services