The Duncan Banner

August 27, 2013

DA, sheriff push for enhanced county courthouse security

Some money decisions could be made this week

By Mike Smith
The Duncan Banner

DUNCAN — Officials are making louder calls for enhanced security at the Stephens County Courthouse given the fatal drive-by shooting that shook Duncan and raised anxiety among courthouse employees.

Stephens County District Attorney Jason Hicks and Stephens County Sheriff Wayne McKinney said Monday their pitches for more security were not simply reactions to the Aug. 16 shooting death of Christopher Lane and its immediate aftermath.

But they left no doubt, in explaining their wishes to the Board of Stephens County Commissioners, that events of the last week have amplified their concerns.

“We are at a boiling point right now,” said McKinney, who has long pushed for more security at the courthouse and made it a point in his re-election campaign last year.

He wants to hire three courthouse deputies, have all visitors screened by metal detectors and install more cameras and other security equipment. Total costs could be about $250,000.

He also wants a single entry point for courthouse visitors, likely the east doors.

Hicks, who filed charges last Tuesday against three teens accused in the drive-by shooting, said some of his office employees fielded telephone calls last week that seriously concerned them.

He did not want to divulge the specific nature of the calls, but said, “One of my employees sat there with the security button in her hands.”

He said many employees on the top floor of the courthouse — where the courts and offices for judges, prosecutors and court clerks are located — are more nervous now.

“Everybody needs to come into a building where they know it’s safe,” Hicks said.

He noted that some courthouses in the state already have enhanced security and said the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has recommended that all county courthouses in Oklahoma take such measures.

The federal courthouse in Oklahoma County not only uses metal detectors to screen all visitors, he said, “You almost have to take everything off to go in there.”

He said he knows money is an issue but some steps are needed now.

“Otherwise something is going to happen in this courthouse,” he said.

He said if it does and somebody sues, the county and the commissioners would be the liable party.

Commissioner Dee Bowen said he agrees enhanced security is needed and some money issues could be decided Wednesday. That is when the commissioners and the County Excise and Equalization Board plan to meet to discuss and possibly set the next annual county budget.

Bowen said there is a definite need to secure the parking lot next to the west side of the courthouse building, where elected officials and some personnel park.

Visitors from the general public sometimes park in those spaces as well.

But like everything else, Bowen said, “It always comes down to money.”

In this year’s budget request, McKinney is seeking about $889,000 in general appropriations from the commissioners and Excise Board to help run his office.

He asked for about $784,000 last year but instead was given $350,000 — about $204,000 less than the previous year.

His office was the only one that received a budget cut, although those funds plus additional money was approved as a supplement to his budget in March.

McKinney said the additional money he is seeking this year could cover the salaries and benefits of hiring three deputies to provide security at the courthouse, as well as meet some other pressing needs.

But he and Undersheriff John Smith said more manpower was key in enhancing security.

“It doesn’t do a whole lot of good to get the equipment if it’s not manned,” Smith said.

Here is a breakdown of cost estimates for enhanced Stephens County Courthouse

security as proposed by Stephens County Sheriff Wayne McKinney.

It would include three deputies.

Deputy annual salary — $34,549

Benefit annual insurance for each — $16,812

Other benefits (retirement, Social Security, etc.) — $23,994

Total annual cost for three courthouse security deputies — $144,454

Cost of cameras, other security equipment, construction — $80,000 to $100,000

Cost of security fencing and automatic gates for west parking lot — $50,000 or more

*Source: Sheriff Wayne McKinney