Courthouse security improves

NEW CUMBERLAND – Entering the Hancock County Courthouse will soon be a little more involved than walking through the front door.

Starting Feb. 3, courthouse visitors will encounter armed guards, an X-ray machine and a walk-through metal detector before they are able to enter the courthouse to conduct their business.

The new secure entrance, under construction since November, will bring the courthouse into conformance with modern security standards, Hancock County commissioners said.

“Basically, it’s going to work like any airport or courthouse around here,” said Robert Vidas, executive director of the county’s Office of Technology and Communications.

On Wednesday, commissioners approved the hiring of Jail Administrator Thomas Cox as the new courthouse security administrator effect Feb. 3. The jail administrator position will be eliminated, Sheriff Ralph Fletcher said.

Cox will be responsible for scheduling and courthouse liaison duties for the sheriff’s department’s new civilian division – 15 part-time officers who will serve as courtroom bailiffs and courthouse security officers.

“It’s going to create a good bit of work,” Fletcher told commissioners.

Fletcher is staffing the civilian division primarily with retired officers or deputies who want to continue working in law enforcement, albeit on a part-time basis.

Two officers in gray blazers will staff the courthouse entrance at any one time – one for the X-ray machine and one to operate the hand-held scanner, Vidas said.

When visitors first enter the courthouse, they will be asked to put their belongings on a set of rollers that will take them through the X-ray machine. Scanned items will be visible on a computer monitor, Vidas said.

While the items are being checked, visitors will be asked to step through a metal detector, known as a magnetometer. If the alarm sounds, visitors also will be checked with a hand-held scanner before they are sent on their way, into the main courthouse hallway.

The new security system also is boosting the number of video cameras from one to four, Vidas said. Funding for the equipment came from a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), Vidas said. The grant required a $90,000 match from county commissioners, he said.

The county’s portion paid for the construction of the new entrance by Trushel Construction of Weirton, whose bid of $106,800 was accepted by commissioners in September.

Vidas said the entire COPS grant was not used, so the balance will be returned to the grant pool for future use.

The Hancock County election and voter registration offices will move back to their former locations, adjacent to the new entrance, by the end of the month, Vidas said.

Also Wednesday, commissioners:

Approved a change to the Hancock County Parks and Recreation Board bylaws, whereby each of the three magisterial districts in the county – Butler, Clay, Grant – will have at least one member on the board. The bylaws formerly said that no more than three members should come from a single district.

Hired part-time 911 dispatcher Paige Dalrymple as administrative assistant