SIOUX CITY | After numerous fits and starts, the Woodbury County Courthouse security plan designed to safeguard citizens and county workers has reached its one-year mark.

County officials for years had sought to tighten security in the courthouse, at 620 Douglas St. Eight months after the program was launched at the end of August 2014, there was a change in personnel oversight.

People using the courthouse this week said they felt more secure because access has been pared back to one entrance with metal detectors, employees who scan people and cameras placed through the building.

"I like the security now. I think we were in need of that," said Lenette Hockett, of Sergeant Bluff.

Woodbury County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Monson, of Sergeant Bluff, said the initiative is working well and the next step is to look into expanding security to other county buildings.

Monson said national incidents of courthouse shootings by disgruntled people spurred action for the Woodbury County Courthouse, which had not had comprehensive security since opening in 1918. He said action was needed to make sure guns and knives don't get into courtrooms or the departmental offices spread over eight floors.

"Having nothing left us wide open," Monson said. "You can't afford to have that (violent) incident."

Woodbury County Sheriff Dave Drew said a few guns and knives have been taken from people entering the building over the year. He said some didn't want to initially comply with giving up their weapons, but none of the incidents became heated. The weapons are placed into a box, then people get them back on exiting the courthouse.

"Knives and guns are part of some people's everyday life" in rural areas, Drew said.

Monson and Drew said there are other security components they won't publicly discuss in three buildings -- the county courthouse, Woodbury County Law Enforcement Center with jails and courts, at 407 Seventh St., and Trosper-Hoyt Building with the county's Juvenile Detention Center and juvenile court services, at 822 Douglas St.

"I think eventually we are gonna have to do more security, especially at Trosper-Hoyt," said Monson. "They have an opportunity to run across somebody who isn't happy."

Monson said discussions on expanding security to the jail building and Trosper-Hoyt likely will be done initially through a security committee. He doubts those talks will begin in 2015 and said it would be premature to pinpoint a cost.

"I think you will see all the buildings get some sort of security or monitoring. They should. It is the times we live in. We need to make sure we have a secured environment," Drew said.

As the debate played out in early 2014 toward funding and implementing a $250,000 security program in the county courthouse, many people figured the staffing duties would be handled by the sheriff's office. But in May 2014, Supervisor Jackie Smith, of Sioux City, instead aired a plan that bypassed the county sheriff.

The supervisors voted 4-1 to have the Human Resources Department hire retired law enforcement officers, with then-Supervisor David Tripp casting the dissenting vote. The move saved $70,000 in annual personnel costs but quickly drew criticism, even before it started.

Unionized sheriff's deputies filed a grievance, contending the move violated their contract. Others didn't like the plan because the security workers could detain anyone caught bringing weapons into the courthouse but didn't have full arrest powers.

According to a review by the Journal of the five Iowa counties most similar in population to Woodbury, four had sheriff's deputies supervising their courthouse security programs.

The dispute over the security played a role in the defeat of longtime Supervisor George Boykin in November 2014. After Jeremy Taylor, who defeated Boykin, and another new supervisor, Matthew Ung, joined the board in January, they vowed to move the sentry duties under the sheriff's oversight. After a vote to do so, the change took place on May 4.

Drew said the current system is proceeding well, under the guidance of Sgt. Don Armstrong.

"People have really adapted to the one-entry way into the courthouse. The (county) employees are very, very satisfied," the sheriff said.


County and education reporter

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