Big courthouse changes coming soon

Sheriff Jim Mullett (right) hands out key cards to county officers, such as Court Clerk Laura Lee (left), and employees in Garvin County's courthouse building as tougher security measures will soon be implemented. They will include metal detectors and public access only at the facility's two annex doors. (PV Democrat photo)

Metal detectors and much tighter security will soon greet visitors and become a regular part of entering into Garvin County's courthouse building in Pauls Valley.

A trial period complete with testing looks to be coming soon as officials continue to move forward with plans to beef up the courthouse's security with the new system expected to start in February.

“We're going to tighten it up,” said Sheriff Jim Mullett as he met Thursday with representatives from each office housed in the courthouse.

“It's a long time coming, and I'm glad everybody's on board with this.”

The big change coming for the public is once the new system does begin the only two places to enter will be the doors on either side of the annex portion of the courthouse.

The plan calls for three other doors in the original courthouse building to be closed and locked up virtually all the time with no access for the public.

As for the two annex entries, Mullett said he plans to hire two new deputies, one for each spot.

Visitors coming through either door will also be greeted by a walk-thru metal detector, while the deputies will also have hand-held detectors.

The sheriff is quick to stress no one will get into the courthouse until they're checked for any metal in their possession.

“You do it at airports, you do it at every other courthouse and it's coming here,” Mullett said about the metal detectors.

“The first thing we're going to find is knives because a lot of people carry knives. This will catch a lot of stuff before it ever gets up to the courtrooms.

“I want to get the deputies hired and go through the card thing,” he said, referring to the testing phases.

“I want to get it all in place and working before we start it.”

Both Mullett and Dave Johnson, Garvin County's emergency management director, said all employees working in a courthouse office will receive their own key card to basically enter from any of the doors.

“We have a lot rumors; these cards will only be given to employees in the courthouse,” Mullett said.

That means no cards for local attorneys, vendors conducting regular business in the facility or those outside of courthouse employees.

Key chain devices will also be used to allow courthouse access for law enforcement officers in police departments throughout Garvin County.

“We will use card readers instead of keypads. We're talking about access to the building,” Johnson told the group of employees during the briefing.

“Our goal is not to restrict access or limit access for your office. Our goal is to make it safer for everybody.

“As we see where there's gaps we'll deal with it. If there's a problem you tell Jim or me about it.”

Card readers are also being installed on all three floors, which ties into a couple of new interior security doors – on the second floor near the county clerk's office and another on the third floor near a judge's chambers.

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Garvin County's new undersheriff, James Richardson, has seen this kind of transition before.

Richardson is a former Stratford police chief and officer who's spent the last 12 years working as a deputy in neighboring McClain County.

Richardson told the group it's been three years since similar security upgrades planned here were done at the courthouse building in Purcell.

“People didn't like it, employees didn't like it,” Richardson said. “Up there there was just one door for everyone to enter and it was all done at once.

“If you didn't have your card you didn't get in,” he said, referring to employees working in the courthouse.

“It's been three years and there's still bugs even though it does run smoothly and a lot of residents up there know about it.”

The new undersheriff here says the two deputies who will man the annex entry points are sure to witness a whole variety of responses to the new security system.

“These guys are going to be bombarded with people and all kinds of stuff. They'll hear people say they've come here for 30 years and things like that,” says Richardson, who started his new position after the start of the new year.

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