Tuesday, December 02, 2014

EDITORIAL >> Security plan at courthouse

Lonoke County Prosecuting Attorney Chuck Graham says security at the courthouse must be improved before someone gets killed or injured.

For the third time in three years, Graham, who is a Republican, asked justices of the peace and County Judge Doug Erwin to provide about $100,000 annually to post two deputies while the courthouse is open and pay $22,500 to install cameras inside and outside the building, add key-card access equipment for employees to side doors, as well as close all but the front entrances, leaving only the back door available to handicapped visitors.

It’s a common-sense plan that will provide a basic level of protection and bring security measures at the courthouse more in line with its counterparts in other counties in the area.

Graham has called for an overhaul of security at the courthouse since 2011, his first year on the job, after a shooting in Van Buren.

More recently, in late October, there was a shooting at a courthouse in Nashville, N.C., which has a population of 5,482, compared with Lonoke’s 4,229. Just last week, a shooter targeted a federal courthouse in Austin, Texas.

Lonoke County residents may be surprised to know there are security checks with metal detectors only outside the courtrooms, just past the prosecutors’ offices. Imagine airport security after people board the plane.

“We get threatened every day,” Graham told us Monday. Fortunately, those making the threats are usually in custody and being sentenced for other crimes. “I’m worried someone’s going to come in here and start shooting. This is the world we live in. We owe it to our folks to keep them safe.”

Judges and prosecutors are not the only ones who would be endangered if a gunman were to target the courthouse. Ordinary people and county officials would be in the line of fire, too. As Graham pointed out during a recent quorum court meeting, “They hate Doug (Erwin) as much as they hate me.”

Sheriff John Staley also supports the plan, but he needs more money from the county to make it happen. “We cannot afford to place deputies at the courthouse without additional funding and manpower. It is needed, and it can be done in phases,” he said. Finding $100,000 a year to pay for deputies at the courthouse from a nearly $7 million budget shouldn’t be too difficult.

The quorum court should listen to Graham and Staley. It will meet next week to try and find a way to pay for the plan.