STEVENS POINT, Wis. (WSAU) - Over the past several years, county courthouses have become more secure, and the public has often been checked for dangerous or illegal items before they’re allowed into a courtroom. One example is the Portage County Courthouse in Stevens Point, where officers have not seen much decline in the number of inappropriate things people bring in their pockets and purses.
Chief Deputy Sheriff Daniel Kontos says the second floor, which is home to three court branches, the District Attorney’s office, and the Clerk of Courts, has had a single point of public entry for a couple of years now to help ensure everyone’s safety. “We have a metal detector. The bailiffs do ask to look through purses and bags, and that kind of thing, and we will check people who set off the metal detector to make sure they’re not bringing in firearms or knives that they’re not allowed to, and it’s amazing the number of people that still try to bring things through the security checkpoint.”
The courthouse security detail has been in place since 2011, and Kontos says the number of inappropriate items confiscated hasn’t tapered off much at all. “Just through the month of July, we’ve screened a little over 23,000 people. We did come across 416 knives, and we discovered 105 other devices that could be used as weapons that they’re not allowed to bring into the courthouse as well. Fortunately, we haven’t encountered anyone that’s tried to smuggle a firearm through yet.”
The Chief Deputy says pocket knives are perfectly legal to own, but you can’t bring it past the security checkpoint. You can either take it back to your car, or surrender it to the screener for destruction. The department cannot check in and check out items.
Kontos says a lot of people get near the checkpoint, and turn around. “We’re not really quite sure what’s up with the people that come up to the top of the stairs, they see the security screening checkpoint, and they turn around and leave. We call that the lighthouse effect. You’re never sure how many ships are saved by a lighthouse, because they don’t crash on the rocks. We’re not sure how many people are trying to bring in other stuff that are simply turned around when they see the deputy standing there.”
Even after a couple of years, Kontos says people are bringing items to court when they should know better. “People will try to bring all kinds of other things through, like baseball bats, brass knuckles, and those kind of things they’re not allowed to have, (also) pepper spray, things that could be used if someone got into a heated argument that we don’t want them to have access to.”
The Portage County Courthouse was built long before security became an issue. Kontos says the public can access the first floor as always, but changes were made to secure the second floor where the courts are. “We did seal off the second floor, so only staff can come up through the non-secure stairways and elevators. The public needs to go through the one single screening point that is on the second floor. We don’t screen everyone coming into the building, that’s not in the cards for right now, but when people come up to the second floor when court is in session, we do screen everyone.”
The Sheriff’s Department’s Courthouse Security Unit made 6 arrests, served 11 warrants, conducted 61 escorts, completed 125 prisoner transports, plus responded to 7 disturbances and 4 security alerts during July alone. In 2012, the CSU screened over 42,000 people, uncovered almost 850 weapons, and handled nearly 100 disturbances in the Courthouse.