Woodbury County Attorney office security

The open front reception area of the Woodbury County Attorney's Office is shown Tuesday on the third floor of the county courthouse. County Attorney P.J. Jennings wants bulletproof glass and other security upgrades to increase  workers' safety.

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal

SIOUX CITY | Posting guards at the doors and installing bulletproof office windows are among security measures that officials are weighing to improve safety at the Woodbury County Courthouse.

The courthouse, at 620 Douglas St., houses county offices as well as courtrooms.

County Attorney P.J. Jennings on Tuesday asked the County Board for $75,000 in the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, to make his offices safer. He said he wants electronic locks and bulletproof windows and room dividers in the third- and fourth-floor offices where prosecutors do their work.

Jennings said the confrontational nature of some court cases gets people worked up and he fears that could cause trouble in his office.

"There is no doubt we have some serious security concerns up there. Each year, the cases (prosecuted) seem to get more violent," he said.

The department also handles certain fine collections, and people get upset about having to pay fines, Jennings added.

Jennings said the offices currently have buttons for summoning law enforcement personnel but that an attack could be carried out before help arrives.

Board member George Boykin, of Sioux City, said Jennings' funding request should be set aside so the board can consider making security improvements throughout the courthouse.

The $75,000 was among expenditures the board cut from Jennings' proposed fiscal 2014 budget on Tuesday.

"We could be doing this whole retrofit for the entire building," Boykin said.

He said one plan would be to follow the lead of the Federal Building two blocks away, where U.S. District Court is held and other federal agencies have offices. That building has workers who use a metal detector to check people entering the building.

Board member Jackie Smith, of Sioux City, said the county needs a comprehensive look at securing workers, even if it means introducing some intrusive procedures.

"It is not fun to come into this building and be scanned, but ...," Smith said, her voice trailing off.

Board Chairman Larry Clausen, of Sioux City, said the board will look into the pros and cons of "fortifying this courthouse."

Jennings told the board he wants his office to be secured and encouraged the members not to let the matter languish while they research changes for the entire building.

In August 2011, the board voted 4-1 to ban guns in four county buildings, including the courthouse. However, after discussing possible ways to enforce the ban, such as installing metal detectors or posting sheriff's deputies, officials put off making a decision and still have not resolved the question.


County and education reporter

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