Courthouse security

Woodbury County Sheriff Dave Drew is shown in the county courthouse in a April 2015 photo.

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal file

The state organization representing lawyers is calling for increased court security in Iowa counties following an incident in Madison County this week.

A man who had been sentenced to 10 years in prison on drug charges pulled out a gun, then fled the county courthouse in Winterset, Iowa, before being found at a school office. The Iowa State Bar Association in a release said the incident points to the need for all county officials responsible for courthouse security to review what they do.

"We cannot wait until a tragedy occurs to have the will to take the preventive measures to ensure safety in our state's courthouses," said Iowa State Bar Association President Guy Cook.

Cook said courthouse security measures vary among the 99 counties, but there should be some basic security measures in all.  Cook pointed to pieces contained in a 2005 task force recommendation on courthouse security.

One of the 2005 recommendations says, "At each Iowa courthouse points of entry should be monitored to prevent the introduction of weapons and other dangerous instrumentalities."

Entrances to the Woodbury County Courthouse in Sioux City aren't monitored. For nearly 100 years, people have worked, served on juries and conducted business in the downtown courthouse with few security measures in place

But that will change as soon as July 1, when money will be available in the new fiscal year to implement a security plan that the Woodbury County Board backs.

The most recent push to get a modernized security plan came in early 2013 by Woodbury County Attorney P.J. Jennings. Jennings and other county officials pointed to the possibility of troubling incidents where people upset with court cases could harm people or brandish a weapon. That seems to be what happened this week in Madison County.

It took some time, but a Woodbury County committee came up with a plan, and the County Board a few weeks ago passed a budget containing $250,000 for courthouse security.

The plan includes adding nine cameras to cover the interior and exterior of the courthouse. Workers will staff a scanner by running metal detection wands over people.

Also under the plan, the west courthouse entrance along Douglas Street would be closed and people would enter only through the north doors. The metal detector would be placed at the north entrance, and signs would advise people that knives, guns and other weapons could not be brought into the building.

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County and education reporter

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