Eagle court security to cost $140K | VailDaily.com

Eagle court security to cost $140K

EAGLE, Colorado – Eagle County taxpayers will pay up to $140,000 next year for private security in the Justice Center, where a $43 million remodel and expansion is wrapping up.

State court officials and court staff with the 5th Judicial District have made it clear that they want courthouse security, although no court edict has been handed down, said Steve Steadman, state courthouse security coordinator with the Colorado Judicial Branch.

“No order has been issued by any judge. We don’t want to do business that way,” Steadman said. “Our position is that we are obliged to keep them safe when they’re in one of our courthouses.”

Instead of providing security through cash-strapped Eagle County Sheriff’s office, it will be a private security contractor.

“We are OK with that,” Steadman said.

“The judges want security for the Justice Center,” Eagle County Sheriff Joe Hoy said.

It’s part of a program by the 5th Judicial District and state to get security in all Colorado courthouses. Hoy said. The funding is still up in the air but the need is not, Hoy said.

“If you don’t have security in place, you don’t know what people are bringing in,” Hoy said. “We’ve had incidents of people bringing in weapons into the courthouse.”

Ironically, the private security guards are stationed just outside the Sheriff’s Office, where Hoy and his department just cut $2 million from their 2011 budget. They have the tools to provide security, Hoy said, but not the staff.

“We have the guns but we don’t have the manpower,” Hoy said. “I had to cut $2 million from my budget. And they’re not guarding the Sheriff’s Office, it’s the whole Justice Center.”

The county accepted bids from private security firms, and now the county’s staff is evaluating the times those private security guards need to be there, and whether they need to carry weapons, said Tom Johnson, Eagle County’s facilities director.

Judges and state court officials originally wanted guards on duty, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Johnson said.

“We’ve been working through not seeing eye to eye,” Steadman said.

Eagle County just received a $9,000 grant to provide their officers with tasers when they’re on courthouse security, as a goodwill gesture, Steadman said.

“Members of the public do not get hurt when they come to one of our courthouses,” Steadman said.

State and district officials are demanding it, but Eagle County taxpayers will pick up the tab for it, yet another unfunded state requirement.

“The courthouses are owned by the counties. It’s their house,” Steadman said. “In Eagle County, the fact that they’re spending money on courthouse security, that’s good.”

County taxpayers are already paying $43 million to expand and remodel that same Justice Center. That includes new courtrooms and offices for judges, court staff, the probation department and the District Attorney’s office.

That $43 million also includes doubling the jail’s capacity. The new jail was at half capacity the day it opened, and has been running at about one-third to one-half capacity ever since, according to statistics provided Thursday by the Sheriff’s Office.

“We have a comprehensive concept about courthouse security,” Steadman said. “What’s most important to us is the safety of the public that comes to the courthouse. Whatever we do is designed to enhance that security. Part of that bargain is to keep the judges and courtrooms safe also. The preponderant number of courthouses provide courthouse security,” Steadman said.

“We see the best people at their worst, people who are having everything from a divorce to a traffic ticket, losing their home in the bad economy. They’re not the same good Joe or Jill that you see raking the leaves in your neighborhood,” Steadman said.

“And we see the worst people at their best – multiple criminal defenders telling us what good people they are,” Steadman said. “Our job is to solve both sides of that riddle.”

Some courthouses need more security than others. It doesn’t make sense to have full-time deputy provide security at Lake City in Hinsdale County, where they hold court once a month, Steadman said.

Eagle County is a mid-sized county and people are in and out of courtrooms for all sorts of reasons, Steadman said.

“Upwards of 260 at-large felons have been arrested when they showed up at our Colorado courthouses, for cases other than their own,” Steadman said. “They may be there for something like their cousin’s case. Security sees them and takes them into custody.”

Colorado judges and court staff received upwards of 75 threats last year, Steadman said.

“Some in our society feel it’s OK to threaten judges or court staffs,” Steadman said. “That’s against the law in Colorado and we intend to see that law enforced.”

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

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