County commissioners consider security improvements at county buildings

At the March 12 meeting, Cook County commissioners wrestled to balance security concerns with fiscal responsibility as they discussed recommendations for security improvements at the courthouse and other county buildings on March 12, 2013.  The recommendations came from a security committee that was formed after the December 2011 courthouse shooting.  After working with a consultant, the committee formulated a list of improvements they considered of highest priority.

Recommended were security cameras in the courthouse, Community Center, and Highway Department buildings, duress buttons in all offices and meeting rooms, an intercom system, a keycard access system that would be programmed by computer to allow various levels of access, a walk-through x-ray machine and a metal detector like those at airports, and two full-time entry-level bailiffs to staff the x-ray machine and metal detector during normal courthouse business hours.  The total cost of the equipment would be just over $164,117 and the cost of two new employees was calculated at $119,100 a year.

Commissioner Garry Gamble said he understood the important of safety but thought the recommendations were an overreaction to the shooting.

Commissioner Bruce Martinson said that he had difficulty with the idea of hiring two full-time employees and that he didn’t think a shooter would necessarily be stopped by a guard at the door.

“Our committee was unanimous on this,” said Commissioner and committee member Sue Hakes. 

“We are the people who experienced this,” said Public Health & Human Services Director Sue Futterer.  “I would ask that you not take it lightly.”

Assistant County Attorney Molly Hicken said she realized that the people who experienced the shooting might not be the most objective, and that was one reason they hired a consultant. 

 “If you were actually in the building when it happened, you would have a lot different perspective on it,” said Commissioner Hakes.  “I feel a responsibility to the people who work here and I feel a responsibility to the people who come here to use the services in this building.”

Sheriff Mark Falk said, “Violence is trending upwards,” and offered statistics to support his statement.  “People say lighting doesn’t strike twice.  We’re not dealing with physics—we’re dealing with human nature.  It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.”

Commissioner Gamble said he was not trying to minimize the risks.  “This is a huge, emotionally charged issue,” he said.

The board voted to purchase the recommended equipment except for the x-ray machine and the metal detector.  They will discuss purchasing that equipment and hiring the staff to operate it during their regular meeting on April 9.