For the first time, visitors to the Columbia County courthouse must pass through security at the entrance.
Since the county's Justice Center and Courthouse Annex opened last August, Columbia County sheriff's deputies, led by Chief Bailiff Sgt. Leon Powell have screened bags and led visitors through a metal detector.
"Knives have been our biggest problem," Powell said of the array of pocketknives confiscated at the new Evans facility.
In the Appling courthouse, deputies were visible only when court was in session or a high-profile case was tried. They did not check anyone at the door.
"There is no telling who had what on their person," Powell said of the old courthouse-security system.
With more judges holding court at the same time and in the wake of Sept. 11, the increased security became necessary.
Deputy Ken Posey checks the X-ray machine
at the Columbia County Justice Center
looking for items that people are not allowed to take into the court building.
foreground is a collection of knives that were
confiscated but not picked up by the owners as they left the building.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
"We catch a lot more down here," Powell said. "It is a lot safer for the staff and the visitors."
Powell supervises a permanent staff of seven, including deputies, an assistant and a man who watches security-camera monitors and alarms in a secluded office.
During the first year, the team got an idea of what could have been slipped into court in Appling. They have recovered pocketknives and other expected items in addition to some stranger ones - forks, screwdrivers, cuticle clippers and a hammer. Most of the items were forgotten by the owners long before they stepped through the courthouse doors and were found buried in purses or satchels.
Two guns were recovered. One belonged to a probation officer and the other was licensed to be carried, Powell said.
Probate Judge Pat Hardaway said she is grateful for the security because it has changed behavior in her courtroom.
"It is just so much more formal and more dignified down there," Hardaway said. "It eliminated a lot of the problems. Plus, when they come in and they have to come through security and they know there are bailiffs there all the time, that changes people's attitude as well."
The deputies sometimes catch guests off-guard, uncomfortable at the thought of emptying their pockets and being screened.
"The first they are a little hesitant. But they realize it is for their own safety," Powell said. "The next go-around, they are a little better."
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