Changing of the guard for courthouse security?

Court security staff watch as people pass through metal detectors at the courthouse entrance

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN

BG Independent News

 

After 20 years of securing the Wood County Courthouse, there may be move for changing of the guards.

Upon the retirement of Tom Chidester, chief constable at the courthouse complex, a debate began over whose job it actually is to protect the courts. The current security program was devised cooperatively by the commissioners, judges, sheriff and other county elected officials in the mid 1990s, when the county was trying to meet the 12 requirements of the Ohio Supreme Court.

A court security office was created and staffed, and now performs several functions like scanning people and packages entering the court complex, standing guard during trials and providing general security functions.

But now Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn has questioned whether his office should take over the court security role.

The county commissioners, in a memo to the judges, sheriff and prosecutor, suggested that the current system be retained.

“It is a cooperative plan that has served the courts, the courthouse complex, and the citizens of Wood County well,” the memo stated.

“We are troubled by the premise that we are being asked to undo the work of many previous elected officials, and that the result of our decision, either way, will be disagreement, argument, and animosity where there has been little or none for over two decades,” the commissioners stated. The system was well thought out, has evolved over the years and works very well, the memo continued.

Wasylyshn said his only motivation is to ensure that his office is meeting statutory requirements for court security.

“The question I’ve had was what are my obligations?” the sheriff said. Wasylyshyn said he posed the question before to the commissioners about a decade ago.

A meeting is planned between the judges, county commissioners, prosecutor and sheriff to discuss the matter.

“We’re all kind of looking at it,” Wasylyshyn said. “I’m just trying to figure out what my obligations are as sheriff.”

A memo from the four county judges, Reeve Kelsey, Alan Mayberry, Dave Woessner and Matthew Reger, appears to support sticking with the current system.

“The courts believe there is no reason to change a system that has worked well for more than 20 years,” the judges’ memo stated.

The judges stated that the court security office is compliant with the law and is not supplanting any responsibility of the sheriff. “The judges find the current situation to be beneficial to the security of the court and responsive to the needs of the courthouse complex. The judges do not believe that it is incumbent upon the sheriff statutorily to assume the responsibilities of court security.”

“The system currently in place is not broke and the judges find no reason to find a fix that is not necessary,” the judges stated.

Wood County Prosecutor Paul Dobson said the issue is not whether or not the current court security system is serving the county well. “The question isn’t whether it’s working,” he said. “The question is whether we are following the law.”

Wood County Common Pleas Judge Matthew Reger said the Ohio Revised Code requires the commissioners hire “watchmen” for the courts – a term not uncommon for the 19th century. Reger said the goal is to make sure the county is following the letter of the law.

“Nobody wants to rely on ‘we’ve always done it this way,’” Reger said.

Wood County Probate and Juvenile Court Judge Dave Woessner said his priority is to make sure the court complex is a safe place. “My primary thing is to make sure the public and employees have a safe and secure environment,” which he feels is being provided now, he said.

Wood County Administrator Andrew Kalmar noted that once the county built the new jail and sheriff office on East Gypsy Lane Road, the sheriff’s staff was no longer consistently on the courthouse grounds. “The sheriff’s presence moved from the courthouse to the East Gypsy Lane Complex.”

“The commissioners feel this has worked terrific,” Kalmar said of the present court security system. “They see no reason that we need to change that.”

If the security were to shift over to the sheriff’s office, all the court security staff would be sheriff’s employees. There are presently 12 part- and full-time security officers. It is unknown if the current staff would continue.

“That’s to be determined,” Wasylyshyn said. “It could be the same people.”

The commissioners suggest the following:

  • The current court security system remain in place and the judges will proceed with the hiring process for the new chief court constable.
  • The sheriff will participate with the judges in the hiring process for the new chief constable.
  • The court security advisory committee will hold quarterly meetings to provide additional opportunities for the sheriff to be involved in the court security system.
  • The sheriff shall communicate expectations regarding training and certifications for court constables.
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