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Get ready to be screened

By Emery Cowan Herald staff writer

Beginning March 4, all visitors to the La Plata County Courthouse, not just those visiting the courtroom, will be subject to a security screening process before they enter the building.

According to new security measures announced Friday, all visitors to the building will be required to enter through the southwest doors near the clock tower, where they will be screened by a metal detector staffed by a Sheriff’s Office deputy.

Until now, the metal detector was used only at the entrance to the courtrooms on the second floor of the building.

The secured entrance will be open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. All other doors to the building will be locked.

All bags, purses and other small items will be screened, as well. Cellphones and other electronic devices will be allowed into the building, but the Sheriff’s Office reserves the right to refuse any objects deemed a security hazard, according to a news release. Even those with a concealed-weapon permit may not bring a gun into the building, the release said.

People who must visit the courthouse after 5 p.m. for special meetings or events will be able to enter but will not be screened, said Dan Bender, spokesman for the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office.

The new security measures were the result of “much discussion” among the county, Sheriff’s Office and 6th Judicial District Court, sheriff’s Capt. Garrett Valencia said in the news release.

The purpose is to provide “reasonable safety and security” for employees and visitors, he said.

Public comment was not solicited in making the decision because “it is a best-practice and security issue from Sheriff’s Office perspective,” Assistant County Manager Joanne Spina said.

The cost for the new screening process will be about $14,500, Spina said. Additionally, county commissioners approved $51,300 in the 2013 budget to add one deputy, who will be assigned to the courthouse.

La Plata County’s new security measures are tighter than surrounding counties. Archuleta and Montezuma counties have metal detectors only at the entrance to county courtrooms, not the entire courthouse, county officials said.

Across the state, though, more counties are stepping up their security and screening procedures, said Eric Bergman, policy and research supervisor at Colorado Counties Inc.

“It is a trend we’re unfortunately seeing in a lot of counties based on issues in the past couple of years,” Bergman said. “Of course, there is an inconvenience factor, but at the end of the day, they are trying to keep everybody safe.”

ecowan@durangoherald.com

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