Beginning on September 4 the public has only been able to enter the Fillmore County Courthouse through the east lobby/main entry. A security officer/deputy will instruct you to put items that may be in your pockets including cell phones, keys, and change into a container to go through a scanner or x-ray machine. Purses and other carry in bags will also be put through the scanner. You then are directed to step through the metal detector. If no metal is detected on your person, you collect your belongings and go on your way.
Metal joint replacements, belt buckles, and steel toed shoes are some items on one’s person that have activated the metal detector alarm.
The security officer oversees the process and keeps track of the monitoring system that displays on camera pictures inside and outside of the courthouse. The system is up and running during regular hours (8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) while the courthouse is open Monday through Friday, at all times when the district judge is on the bench, and during some other periods when the public enters for scheduled meetings. Currently, three part-time deputies have been hired to oversee courthouse security.
Security Officer Mosher said the deputies work 10-hour shifts (currently, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.) They begin their day before the courthouse is open to the public by walking around the perimeter of the courthouse and the shift ends after the courthouse closes to the public by again walking around the exterior of the building.
Sheriff Tom Kaase said the east door was selected to be the entry point for the public because it is handicapped accessible.
Authorized persons can bypass the screening process by displaying proper credentials.
Judge Matthew Opat issued a standing order over a year ago which states “no firearms, ammunition, explosives, or dangerous weapons are allowed in the Fillmore County Courthouse complex.” A pocket knife or any other knife will not be allowed. Any item that can be used as a weapon can not be carried into the courthouse. The public is allowed to take items which could be used as a weapon that they have on their person back to their vehicle.
If the alarm on the metal detector is activated, the person is asked to step back and recheck for metal items on his or her person. If the alarm is activated again, a hand wand may be used to pin point the area which is setting off the alarm. If a person can not explain a reason for the sounding of the alarm to the satisfaction of the security officer, the person will be denied access to the building.
Kaase explained that something that is in violation of the law will be able to be placed in an “amnesty box” to be located outside of the courthouse. At the time of this writing, this box has not yet been installed. Items placed in the amnesty box will not be returned and will become the property of the sheriff’s department. The box will be cleared out as evidence and it will be determined if items are contraband, need to be destroyed, or are of some value.
Employees that work in the courthouse building or access the building regularly have badges that allow them to use the west door to enter the lobby. Kaase said anybody can be screened at any time. Employees may be selected and directed to be screened on a random basis. Kaase suggested the most likely threat will come from someone in the courthouse due to a court related situation.
No other doors other than the east and west lobby doors can be used to enter or exit the building. All other doors have alarms on them which will sound off if the door is opened. They are to be used for exit in emergency situations only.
Employees that work in the courthouse building have reader cards that allow them into offices appropriate for their work assignments.
Kaase believes the public has been accepting of the security system process. The security system improves safety and security for visitors, employees, and court officials. He explained that each of the courthouses in the state are designed differently. Some courthouses house the court, probation, and the county attorney separately. The Fillmore County courthouse houses the court and offices related to the court, but also the auditor/treasurer, recorder, assessor, coordinator, zoning, and the commissioner’s board room.
Kaase commented that a few individuals have come to the door, seen the metal detector and security officer, and then they have turned around and left, not to return.
If the public has questions, they can talk to the security officer or reach out to the sheriff’s office. The security system has been installed to improve the safety and security of those visiting and working in the courthouse.
Security equipment is expensive. County Coordinator Bobbie Vickerman said about $242,000 has been spent on equipment and installation to date. Most of the funds used to pay for the system came from two years of dividends from the Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust (MCIT). Thirty-one thousand was from a state grant. Less than $40,000 came from county levy dollars.