BUCKHANNON – Starting Tuesday Oct. 1, there will be new security measures in place at the Upshur County Courthouse and courthouse annex.
Magistrate Mike Coffman said the change in security has been underway since 2005 – but in stages.
“It started with the employees having card readers limiting access to the building, both at the courthouse and in the courthouse annex, and it has been taking place in stages,” Coffman said.
He said the process is reaching to its final stage, which is security at the front doors of the courthouse and courthouse annex.
“Everything else has been done,” Coffman said. “The camera systems are very adequate, and we added the duress alarms – that was all done in stages, and now it is time to do security at the front doors or not and we’ve been talking about it with the county commission, numerous elected officials and employees have met and talked about it for years on a regular basis and expressed the need of the security for the front doors.”
Coffman said he has played a vital role in this process since he was voted the chairman of the Courthouse Security Board, but, as a longtime magistrate, he has also seen firsthand what occurs at the front doors.
“What I see come through the door on a daily basis, what we deal with has really changed in the last 12 months anyway – it’s changed drastically with all the drugs and more violence that we’re seeing,” Coffman said.
He explained that the main entrance to the courthouse itself will remain fairly similar, but with an armed courthouse security officer and desk.
“If you’re just going to the County Clerk’s Office, you’re not going to see much change,” Coffman said. “If someone does have a backpack, they will be subject to search, or any kind of a bag or briefcase.”
He said the new security will limit availability to go up and down the main stairs to the Upshur County Circuit Courtroom or down to the probation office, unless in the case of an emergency exit.
Most of the changes will be implemented at the annex entryway.
“Now, all the foot traffic that’s coming in the buildings are going to run through the courthouse annex, which has the elevators for handicap accessibility anyway,” Coffman said. “It’s all going to run through the annex and that’s where to go for paying taxes, going to the assessor’s office, Magistrate Court, and that includes the clerk, Circuit Court, and that includes clerk, Family Court and county commission.”
Everyone who comes through the annex entrance will be screened by a metal detector that will be located in the lobby of the annex. In addition, an armed courthouse security officer and desk will also be present in the lobby. People with backpacks or large bags will be manually searched by the officer.
“We are hoping to expand on that as well, with some grant funding, but that will probably be after July of next year,” Coffman said. “We want to incorporate an X-ray machine for baggage and personal items.”
He said the main goal of this project is to control access to the building and to ensure everyone goes through the metal detector.
“We want to stress that this is not meant to impede or interfere with people doing business at the courthouse; it’s meant to make it a safer place,” Coffman said.
Coffman said county officials have had people come into court with knives in their backpacks and other paraphernalia.
“This is not only to protect the employees of the courthouse, and courts, it’s to protect the people that do business in the courthouse as well,” Coffman said. “We see all over the country, all these bad things that happen at public buildings or concerts and we all think, ‘well, it’s not going to happen right here,’ but we have to be mindful of that.”