A new security system in place at the Utah County Courthouse may be an inconvenience, but court security personnel hope the system will help them avert tragedies that have occurred at other courthouses.
As part of new security measures, ground-floor windows have been secured and all but the courthouse's east doors have been closed. The courthouse's north, south and west doors now serve as fire exits and can only be opened from the inside. Fire alarms, which sound when the doors are opened, will be installed by the middle of September.In addition, those entering the courthouse will be required to pass through a metal detector at the east doors. Some people may not like the delay, but the added security outweighs the inconvenience, said Ron Fernstedt, sheriff's sergeant in charge of court and county facilities security.
"We're not going to wait until we have an incident to put something in place," he said. "We're proactive. Safety and security are the main factors."
Increasing pedestrian traffic in the courthouse and recent incidents prompted the new security measures, Fern-stedt said.
"There have been a number of incidents in the Western states, particularly the Ronnie (Lee) Gardner case and then the Grand Junction (Colo.) incident that occurred recently," he said. "We decided to implement basic-level security now."
Gardner, on death row for murder, shot and killed a Salt Lake attorney and critically wounded a court bailiff in the spring of 1985 during an escape attempt from the Metropolitan Hall of Justice in Salt Lake City. The shootings occurred after a female friend slipped a gun to Gardner as he was taken to a routine court appearance.
And on Aug. 17 in Grand Junction, a man barricaded himself in the county courthouse after his wife slipped him a gun during a court appearance. The man took and later released several hostages, but not before his wife shot and killed herself.
Most Utah County offices have been moved from the courthouse to the new county building to the east, thus eliminating people from the courthouse who aren't there on court business. The county clerk's office and county microfilm division of the recorder's office, however, have yet to be moved.
Fourth District judges agree that beefed-up security is needed at the courthouse. In issuing an order last week for increased courthouse security, 4th District Judge George E. Ballif called the establishment of security "an imperative need."
To further improve security, special secure areas are being established for defendants and jurors, Fernstedt said. In addition, new courthouse hours have been set: 7:45 a.m. to 5 p.m.
"We've had a pretty good response to it (the increased security)," Fernstedt said. "I think we've had one person upset because it was inconvenient."