County moves forward on courthouse security

ERIC POOLE | Herald

The north entrance to the Mercer County Courthouse – one of four – might be closed under a proposal to restrict visitors and employees to a single entrance with screening security.

AT LEAST they are talking about it now.

In a 2-1 vote this past week, the Mercer County commissioners decided to begin the process of making the courthouse safer.

The first step, according to commission chairman Matt McConnell, who voted against the measure, is to talk with those who work in and around the courthouse to see what they think is necessary to make their work environment safer.

After that, a committee will be formed, and then, proposals will be made.

Sounds good, right? Let’s get the opinions of the people who deal with the risk on a daily basis and then get a smaller group focused on getting proposals for accomplishing the task.

Here’s the concern.

This is not something that needs to take months or even years only to later be voted down or watered down because it is “too expensive.”

There needs to be a real commitment and a deadline for accomplishing what needs to be done.

McConnell says that even though he is against the courthouse security measure, he will support the effort and abide by the decision of the majority of the county commission.

OK, but really, it is absolutely puzzling why McConnell is so dead set against security improvements. Surely the fact that Mercer County is one of very few courthouses without such measures in place gives him pause.

We know it gives us pause.

The access to a public building should be open to the community. We get that.

But a courthouse is a place with a potential for a serious problem.

There are courtrooms in a courthouse, where people face judgments and disputes every day.

There are suspects facing charges — and lots of emotions from the families of the suspects and the victims.

Heated words could easily become something much more dangerous.

There are other places where there could be conflict, too. Even something like a property dispute or a custody case could become an emotional powder keg.

And then there are the law enforcement personnel. Some criminals have an issue with the people who prosecute them or those who investigate them. What’s to prevent them from exacting revenge?

The sheriff’s deputies who have been monitoring the courthouse have been doing a tremendous job with the limited resources they have.

They are not the problem. Society and today’s angry world are.

The fact that there has not been an incident at the courthouse is not evidence that security is not necessary.

It is just a reason to cast a grateful eye to the heavens.

There are many, many cities in this country that never thought they would have an active shooter incident — or that they would be mourning innocent lives lost.

We can’t just sit back and cross our fingers. We just can’t.

So, while it is great that the process is beginning, this is not carte blanche to discuss it, to debate it and to set it on the back burner.

Courthouse security does not just protect county employees either. Citizens doing business in the building are also at risk — as are the law enforcement personnel who would have to respond in the case of an active shooter.

It is time to get the job done, swiftly.

The vote has been cast. Now let’s see some real work — and results.

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