Visitors who have entered the Lawrence County Judicial and Administrative Building since Labor Day were sure to notice a couple of changes happening at the county’s courthouse.
Within the last two weeks, security screening has been moved from the second floor to the main entrance, and an ATM has been installed at the Probate Office entrance.
Lawrence County Sheriff Max Sanders said the screening station was moved on Friday, Aug. 30, before Labor Day weekend.
The security screening was once housed on the second floor where the district and circuit courtrooms are located. It was moved to enhance security measures for everyone who enters the courthouse, according to the sheriff’s office.
Sanders said the move was in response to requests from courthouse personnel and the courthouse security committee.
“We looked at it long and hard; then we moved it downstairs. It looks like everybody’s pleased with it,” he said.
Courthouse Security Officer J. Ray Sanford said he has received positive feedback from the general public in the first two weeks after installation.
“I’m surprised this wasn’t already in place here,” he said while manning the screening station Tuesday morning. “Other courthouses in surrounding counties have them—it was unusual that it wasn’t at the entrance here.”
In the first weeks of operating the screening since the move, Sanford said the security team has not detected any guns, but pocket knives have become a noted issue.
“We’ve held dozens of pocket knives, all different sizes. Women have come in with them in their purse, men have them in their pockets, and sometimes they might have two or three,” he said. “We’d like to remind everyone that knives are considered a weapon. Please do not bring them into the courthouse for safety reasons.”
A security crew staffs the screening station during all operating hours at the judicial building each day, according to the security team. Those entering the courthouse from the back entrance are asked to walk around to the station upon entering as well.
“We apologize for the inconvenience, but that’s the only way we can do it,” Sanders said. “If court is going on, (visitors to court) may want to show up a few minutes early.”
Probate Judge Greg Dutton and Revenue Commissioner Brad Henderson, whose offices are located in the center of the judicial center’s entry-level, said overall they’ve received positive feedback for the higher security as well.
“There are growing pains with any change,” Dutton said. “We appreciate the courtesy and the extra measures that security provides to keep all employees and citizens safe.”
Henderson said his office personnel and most clients are thankful for the secure environment.
“Now that the security has been in place for a couple of weeks, the foot traffic coming in notices major changes, but it’s been mostly positive feedback. There are no major inconveniences,” he said.
While patrons to the courthouse may have to adjust to the new screening, Henderson said another change may make the visit to his office more convenient for those who do not usually carry a checkbook or have cash on hand.
In recent weeks, an automated teller machine (ATM) was also installed on the first floor of the courthouse, following approval of the Lawrence County Commission last July.
Henderson said the addition has made it easier for patrons to pay their tag or license renewals by having access to the ATM in the same building.
“We may have some visitors who have been waiting in line, they make it to the counter around 4:20, and all they have is their debit card,” Henderson said. “Even though we close at 4:30, we may offer to wait a moment, but it could take them 15 to 20 minutes to make it back with cash.”
While the state allows drivers licenses to be renewed using a debit or credit card, Dutton said it could be very confusing for those visiting other departments in the courthouse that only accept cash or personal checks.
“Those who have taken off work, or those who are from out of town to conduct business at the courthouse, they will still be able to use their credit or debit card onsite thanks to this ATM,” Dutton added.
Henderson said early estimates show about 100 visitors utilize the ATM each week since its installation, according to the ATM provider.
“The ATM is also open to the general public,” he said. “It’s not just for those using it specifically for courthouse business.”
The new ATM is located near the entrance to the Probate Office on the first floor of the Judicial Building.