By CHRIS AGEE
Palo Pinto County Sheriff Ira Mercer presented the case for the implementation of safety measures at the county courthouse during Monday’s commissioner’s court session.
He said three county judges have contacted him with an interest in exploring the issue, noting while he oversees courthouse security, commissioners are tasked with directing such measures.
Mercer said he does not want to pursue a course of action that would take money out of his department’s patrol division and stressed security officers should be considered an entity separate from the PPSO. He indicated the undertaking would require at least two employees and suggested taking salary, benefits, overtime, and training expenses into account when considering the issue.
The county’s courthouse security fund generates approxmiately $25,000 each year and currently has a balance of about $200,000, he said.
District Judge Mike Moore expressed a desire to see any action taken to increase security be drafted in such a way it can be indefinitely maintained and funded.
Mercer explained the county courthouse’s design does not naturally lend itself to security, but he said there are certain steps the county can take to keep the building and its occupants safer.
He said X-ray machines and scanners currently in county inventory appear to be in working order and noted one security officer placed at the courthouse’s west entry could check all visitors before allowing them access.
“What you have to have is a bottleneck,” he said.
County Judge David Nicklas asked if hiring guards from a private security firm would be a possibility and Mercer expressed his hope to fill those positions with county employees.
“If I’m responsible for it then I want the guys that are right for me,” he said.
Both Mercer and Moore agreed commissioners should decide the scope of any security measures.
“Tell me what you want and how secure you want it and we’ll go from there,” Mercer told the commissioners.
Precinct 2 Commissioner Louis Ragle suggested starting with just one guard whose mere presence would serve as a deterrent for possible criminal activity.
Mercer replied that such action would be “better than nothing but it’s not courthouse security.”
Nicklas asked Mercer to compile policies and procedures in effect at courthouses in surrounding counties and set a workshop for commissioners to discuss the issue further later this week.