County debates hiring security personnel for courthouse
Balancing safety concerns with fiscal responsibility continues to be a contentious issue for the Cook County commissioners.
In March, the board approved the installation of security cameras, duress buttons, and an intercom system at all county buildings and a computerized keycard access system at the courthouse. The board postponed a decision on purchasing additional security equipment and hiring bailiffs to provide security at the courthouse as recommended by the Cook County Security Committee, which was commissioned after the December 2011 courthouse shooting.
The discussion continued on April 9, 2013 and resulted in several split votes after impassioned speeches by Cook County Sheriff Mark Falk and County Attorney Tim Scannell.
Sheriff Mark Falk, chair of the security committee, recommended to the county board either of two options—one for a full-time deputy to screen people entering the courthouse during court hours and during “any other highly charged events or high-risk events,” plus the equipment needed to screen them. The other recommendation was for two full-time deputies to screen people entering the courthouse during regular courthouse hours, plus the equipment needed to screen them.
The total cost to the county for each deputy, if they were entry-level, would be $60,000.
Commissioner Garry Gamble said, “It appears we are using more and more of the public’s money to protect ourselves from the public. We must ask ourselves, should we who serve the public, using the public’s money to do so, be entitled to everything we want or say we need when those we serve are not afforded the same option?”
Sheriff Falk said they have an obligation to protect people, and it’s his job. “There’s not going to be another shooting in this office while I’m sheriff,” he said, adding that people can vote him out if they think he’s not being fiscally responsible.
Attorney Tim Scannell, a victim of the 2011 shooting, said the county pays experts to make recommendations and the county board should heed them rather than micromanaging areas in which they are not experts.
Finally, by a vote of 3-2, the board passed a motion authorizing Sheriff Falk to either obtain a possibly free x-ray machine from St. Louis County or purchase one. Voting aye were Bruce Martinson, Garry Gamble, and Heidi Doo-Kirk and voting nay were Jan Hall and Sue Hakes, who preferred a motion that would include the staffing needed for the security equipment.
A motion to hire a full-time deputy and obtain the recommended security equipment failed 2-3, with Hall and Hakes voting aye and Martinson, Gamble, and Doo-Kirk voting nay. Immediately after this vote, Sheriff Falk and Attorney Scannell left the meeting.
There was then considerable discussion about staffing. Commissioner Hall said they can’t tell the sheriff how to do his work. Commissioner Hakes said danger exists even on non-court days and she believed they made “an extremely poor decision.”
Doo-Kirk suggested a motion authorizing the sheriff to have additional licensed peace officer staff on hand on court days to assist the bailiffs. That motion passed 3-2, with Martinson, Doo-Kirk, and Gamble voting aye and Hakes and Hall voting nay.
The board unanimously passed a motion authorizing the sheriff to purchase a walk-through metal detector and to seek grant funding to pay for it.