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SIOUX CITY | Just before noon Wednesday at the Woodbury County Courthouse, two men walked in to pay property taxes, a bulk water delivery worker carried in a load and a couple picked up a marriage license.

All those people would have to go through a security check in the near future if Woodbury County officials move ahead with a plan to safeguard the courthouse. The proposal, to be discussed next week, includes adding security cameras, two scanning machines and personnel to oversee people entering the building.

The moves would provide the first substantial security measures in the history of the 1918 building, which houses county offices and courtrooms. 

Betty Franklin, of Louisville, Ky., came to see the Wednesday wedding of a daughter in the courthouse. She was surprised to enter without a check. Franklin said that's the norm where she lives. 

"I figured I'd at least have to drop my purse through a scanner," Franklin said.

The Woodbury County Board meeting on Tuesday will include a discussion on the possible security changes. County officials have sought ways to make the courthouse more secure. District court and many county departments are housed in the facility at 620 Douglas St. County Attorney P.J. Jennings in January told the County Board about the need to protect prosecutors on the third and fourth floors.

County Sheriff Dave Drew told the Journal that the county's Security Committee has settled on the main pieces, but the open question is how soon implementation can occur. Drew said the county budget doesn't have the roughly $270,000 to move ahead, so the measures may not arrive until July, the start of the fiscal year.

The estimated one-time cost of adding nine security cameras and other technology is $100,000. Three workers would staff the scanner by running metal detection wands over people, at a rough annual cost of $170,000. Drew said the county plans to hire perhaps 20 retired law enforcement personnel to operate the technology, each working only a few shifts per month on a part-time basis.

Bids will be obtained for the cameras, which would capture both the interior and exterior of the courthouse.

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.

Said Jennings, "While we understand that the proposed closure of the west doors would be an inconvenience to both the employees and patrons of the building, it is a requirement in order to effectively secure the building during business hours."

Drew predicted the extra time for people to enter the building will be relatively short, in line with how it takes just a bit longer getting into the Federal Building one block away.

The scanning machine will come at no cost to the county: a machine that formerly had been used by marshals at the Federal Building was available after an upgrade.

The Security Committee included Jennings, court personnel, Drew's office, the Human Resources department and County Board members Larry Clausen and George Boykin.

"It is long overdue and we're glad that collaboratively we all came together on figuring out how we could provide safety and security," Drew said.

Drew said people have come to expect security in a world where violence can happen in public buildings.

"I think people are surprised today when they just walk into a courthouse and they don't have to walk through things," he said.

Glenn Montreuil, of Sioux City, said he uses the courthouse a few times per year and never feels unsafe.

"You never know when some maniac will go out and do nasty things, but this is a safe area," Montreuil said.

Jennings and Drew said they hoped the five County Board members will embrace the recommendations.

Said Drew, "All through Iowa, a lot of sheriff offices are providing security for the courts, for the employees and also the people that are doing business there -- the jurors that do the court, people that come in to pay their taxes, (conduct) their daily business. Unfortunately, where we live at today, sometimes those buildings are targets for disgruntled people."

Jennings said the initial recommendations won't address every aspect that the Security Committee saw as needs.

"It is a good start towards that objective. Understanding that funding will be a big concern for the supervisors, the initial proposal tries to balance that concern with the security of the employees," Jennings said.

"I am hopeful that the board will find the funding to begin this process even if it will not be possible to completely do so in its entirety until the next fiscal year."

Clausen, of Sioux City, the County Board chairman, said he supports no money being spent on the security package until the next fiscal year. Clausen said the four other board members may have other views of the timing when the proposal is discussed.

Drew said the security measures will go only into the Woodbury County Courthouse. He said two other county downtown buildings also have security needs -- the Woodbury County Law Enforcement Center, which houses associate court cases, and Trosper-Hoyt Building, which has juvenile court proceedings.

"Feasibility-wise, it is just not something the county can afford," the sheriff said.

Boykin, of Sioux City, said he's glad seven months of meetings have resulted in a substantial plan, even if the outcome hasn't been settled.

"We're at a point where we can make a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors for the security of the courthouse, and also look down the road at security for the other two buildings," Boykin said.


County and education reporter

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