Security measures at the Fulton County Courthouse in Wauseon ramped up permanently as of Dec. 2.
The Fulton County Sheriff’s Office instituted a single handicapped-accessible entry to the building at its southwest corner, and man a metal detector inside the door. Notices on the main and rear courthouse doors inform visitors there is no public access and warn that alarms will sound if the doors are opened.
Sheriff’s office signs posted in front of the building’s front and rear stairways also announce there is no entry. Sgt. Bryan Coger, head of the department’s security for the courthouse, said Fulton County is one of the last counties in Ohio to implement more rigid security at its courthouse.
“This was a long time coming. We owe the citizens that enter and exit the courthouse security,” he said.
The single entrance door will automatically unlock at 8:30 a.m. and lock at 4:30 p.m. The permanent metal detector will be manned at all times by one of four part-time deputies assigned to the duty, and by more than one during heightened activities.
Coger will apply in 2020 for a state technology grant to buy an X-ray machine to complement the metal detector. Until it’s possible to make that purchase deputies will check all visitors’ possessions by hand. Hand-held detectors will be used for a second check if a visitor sets off the main detector’s alarm after walking through.
Coger said illegal items found during a search will be confiscated and the law will be followed accordingly. He said visitors found with legal but restricted items will be advised to return them to their vehicle or home before re-entering the courthouse. Restricted items will include chemical sprays, handcuffs and handcuff keys, stun guns, medication not in prescription bottles, metal-pronged hair picks, alcohol, knitting needles, flat metal bottle openers, silverware, corkscrews, metal car window breakers, bullet-proof vests on civilians, carpentry tools, kubatons (self-defense keychain weapons), and pointed umbrellas.
Deputies can also hold the items at their station, returning them when the visitor leaves the courthouse.
“If you’re going to be visiting our courthouse, leave anything you don’t want searched in your vehicle or at home. That will make it easier on you and us not to have to search it,” Coger said. “It’s just about being able to prepare people coming to the courthouse.”
The new security measures are a sign of the times, and were planned as the 147-year-old courthouse underwent an almost year-long, $4.2 million renovation that was completed this fall, the sergeant said. The use of a single entry and a metal detector have been implemented at the courthouse in the past during high-profile events, such as the James Worley murder trial in March of 2018.
“It’s going to relieve all the court personnel from stress and tension” over the possibility of security breaches, Coger said. He said a sheriff’s deputy will be assigned to the Common Pleas Courtroom when the court’s existing bailiff chooses to retire.
Common Pleas Court Judge Jeffrey Robinson said the court’s security committee found the update necessary.
“Courthouses have become places that are a little dangerous at times. Court security is absolutely essential so that people can feel safe coming here,” he said. “I think (the sheriff’s office has) done an excellent job promoting security,and I’m looking forward to its implementation.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.