Washington County receives grant for courtroom security enhancements

Zach Vance • Updated Jan 11, 2018 at 11:14 AM

Security enhancements aren’t cheap, but a state grant can certainly help.

The Washington County Budget Committee voted Wednesday to recommend the purchase of a new X-ray machine and metal detector, which will be installed at the entrance of the George Jaynes Justice Center.

Luckily, the county won’t be footing the entire bill.

In December, the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts notified the county that it was awarded a one-time grant, totaling $19,898.10, for the purchase of the requested security equipment.

“The (Administrative Office of the Courts) received more than $5 million in grant requests from counties across Tennessee,” Administrative Office of the Courts Director Deborah Tate wrote in a letter to Judge John Rambo, who wrote the grant application.

“The grant process was extremely competitive, and unfortunately, we were unable to fund more than half of the requests received. However, we are pleased to inform you that Washington County will receive funds.

The county will be required to pay the equipment’s total cost up front, estimated to be around $20,000. The state will then award the grant to the county after local officials provide documentation of the purchase. The county has to make a 10 percent match; after the grant, the county cost will be $2,210.

The bulk of the requested expense, about $16,990, was for the X-ray machine, which once installed, will create an additional layer of security for the courthouse.

Washington County Chief Deputy Leighta Laitinen applauded the addition, saying the courtroom can get volatile at times, especially when a domestic or child custody case is being heard.

“I just don’t think we can do enough to enhance our courtroom security,” Laitinen said.

Earlier this week, at a hearing for a man charged with first-degree murder,  Criminal Court Judge Stacy Street said he received information that someone intended to bring a weapon to the man’s trial, but warned the audience that such behavior would not be tolerated.

“The courtroom will have increased security ... we will not have that from either side,” said Street, who did not indicate where the threat originated.

The courtroom’s current configuration consists of three metal detectors, with deputies standing at each one ready to search purses and bags.

“They go through people’s purses as quickly as they can, but it would still be easy to hide some things because we don’t dump the whole purse out. We kind of do a brief scan of it visually,” Laitinen said. “We put it through this (X-ray) machine, and we hope to catch a lot more.”

County Commission Chairman Greg Matherly said the county already purchased one new metal detector earlier this year, but officials wanted to wait until the second detector was purchased so both could be calibrated and installed at the same time.

With an X-ray conveyer belt and just two metal detectors instead of three, Matherly said he expects the courtroom lobby will be rearranged after the new enhancements are installed.

In the last year, several county courthouses in the region have received security upgrades, including Johnson County and Carter County.

Just last month, the Carter County Jail began using a full-body scanner, similar to those used in airports. Although he didn’t reveal its cost, Sheriff Dexter Lunceford said the equipment was purchased using revenue collected via the inmate telephone system.

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