Metal detectors to appear in El Dorado County Courts building |

Metal detectors to appear in El Dorado County Courts building

Court visitors will soon have to walk through a metal detector to enter an El Dorado County Courts building.

Besides a few threats against judges, there have been no weapons incidents in the county courthouses. Why then is more than a half a million dollars being spent to beef up court security?

It’s simple. That’s what the state is handing money out for this year. The Trial Court Funding Act of 1997 consolidated all court funding decisions to the state level. With the passage of the act, the state assumed full responsibility for funding trial court operations starting with the 1997-98 fiscal year.

This year, as part of a directive by the California Judicial Council and former Governor Pete Wilson, the state budgeted $33.2 million to upgrade California’s court security. El Dorado County’s share of the pot is $615,000. About $115,000 of that was budgeted for the one-time expense of buying security equipment. The remaining half million is scheduled to pay for new personnel to man the checkpoints.

“The cost of new deputies to run the security systems would become part of our baseline expenses, and would therefore be funded every year by the state,” said Alexander Aikman, court executive officer.

Superior Court Judge Suzanne Kingsbury said a lack of discretionary funds at the county level is one drawback of the new state funding process.

“In terms of the grand scheme, I would rather see that money spent on things like new chairs for the jurors or a juror sitting room, or a more comfortable work environment for my staff. But, when the state allocates money for the specific purpose of security, that is what it must be used for. And security is a funny thing, nobody thinks much about it until something happens,” she said.

“I’ve always thought of our courthouse as small, relaxed county courthouse,” she said. “I’m distressed at the possibility that this security process might detract from that atmosphere or make the courthouse less user friendly. Perhaps this marks the end of an era, but murders do happen in courthouses all the time and even in small counties. I see this measure as geared towards the potential of a problem, rather than an actual problem.”

Sheriff Hal Barker said an original proposal called for at least eight new deputies to man the checkpoints in Placerville and South Lake Tahoe, but that proved to be too expensive.

According to the county’s financial manager, an average bailiff in South Lake Tahoe will cost the county $61,890 in salary and benefits in the coming year. Bailiffs are usually deputies who have been with the department for a long time and are at the top step of salary increments.

Barker said a new proposal is to hire fewer full-time deputies and utilize part-time personnel, or older retired officers. The county would not be responsible for part-timer’s benefits.

Once the equipment is installed, all visitors will pass through a magnetometer, similar to the devices used in airports, and all bags, purses, and closed containers will be screened by an X-ray machine.

The South Lake court branch also has to solve a door problem before the security screenings can begin. There are three entryways into the main court building, two of them must be secured against incoming traffic and converted to emergency exits.

“Until we get all the doors secure there is no use in starting anything,” Barker pointed out.

Neither Barker or Aikman could give an estimate on when the equipment would be in place.

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