Residents can expect tighter security at the Dawson County courthouse within the next month.
Dawson County Court Services Sgt. Doug Boyle just returned from federal court security training in South Georgia.
He said security measures will improve at the courthouse.
Changes such as a redesigned entryway, with only one entrance and one exit for all who enter the courthouse, and advancements in technology used during court, are all in anticipation of the new planned $40 million Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax funded courthouse.
“The citizens approved the new courthouse, and we want them to know we are making slow changes now, so they can expect to see them to be in place by the time the courthouse is ready,” Boyle said.
Initially, court security operational changes will be small, but noticeable. “We’re going to change the way people come into the courthouse and we’re going to be a little more stringent than we’ve been in the past,” he said. “People are probably going to get upset with us, but when people go through the metal detectors and their belts or something goes off, they’re going to have to take it off.”
Boyle said the added security is no different than other counties nearby.
“Cherokee does it, Forsyth, Hall County. We’re just getting in line where we should be,” he said.
The state mandated each court system devise a security plan, approved by the Chief Superior Court judge.
That security plan played out earlier this year when one of Dawson County’s highest profile cases, Gary Michael Hilton, admitted killing missing hiker Meredith Emerson in the Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area.
“High profile court cases like Hilton cause a security problem for us and the court system,” Dawson County Sheriff Billy Carlisle said. “Our current courthouse was not built with security in mind. We have no way of getting inmates to court except taking them through the general public.”
Judges also use the same elevator as the public, and the court inmate holding cell is on the same hallway as the superior court judge’s office.
“The courthouse security training gives our officers a broader view of how to secure our courthouse with the measures we’ve got and what other ways that we can do things better and more efficiently with what we have,” Carlisle said.
The court training Boyle and Deputy Matt Hall received last month encompasses an overview of court security on the federal level and was taught by the U.S. Marshal’s Office, which protects federal judges and federal attorneys.
“It’s 40 hours and touches base with judicial security of the judges, facilities inspections, courtroom security, different restraints, techniques for inmates in court, positioning in court and physical security aids,” Boyle said.
The training also covered new federal technology available to benefit local and state law enforcement agencies on a daily basis.
“They even got into the restraint belts, which we just had training on. The belts are worn in court by inmates in case they become a problem in court — there’s a shock,” Boyle said.
Boyle said each member of the court services staff, as well as the warrants division, will undergo a 40-hour court security training course before the new courthouse opens.
“Since I’ve been through the training, now I can come back and convince those who would have input in the courthouse security of what the federal government is saying would be the steps to better protect us and the citizens,” Boyle said.
E-mail Michele Hester at firstname.lastname@example.org.