HELENA — The Lewis and Clark County Commission has approved a plan to place armed security officers at the county courthouse.
Commissioners unanimously supported a contract with the security firm Securitas on Tuesday morning. The county will pay about $236,000 a year to place three officers in the courthouse on weekdays under the deal which is set to run through Oct. 1, 2022.
County leaders said there wasn’t a particular incident that led them to this decision, and that they had been interested in adding more security for years.
“We’ve received letters over the years from the judges, expressing concern about security at the courthouse,” said Commissioner Andy Hunthausen. “Since I’ve been here, we’ve talked about wanting to address this issue and needing to address this issue.”
The county put together a team, including representatives from the court system, the Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office, Disaster and Emergency Services and county facilities management, to look at the best model for additional security. That group has been holding weekly meetings since the spring to work on a plan.
“We tried to make it a very collaborative process of all those people working together,” said Roger Baltz, the county’s chief administrative officer.
Under the contract, two Securitas officers would be on duty at the courthouse from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on weekdays, and a third officer would be there from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Baltz said they plan to require everyone entering the courthouse to come in the east door, across from the Myrna Loy. They will install scanning equipment inside.
“If you’re coming to the courthouse to conduct business, be aware of what’s in your pockets, what’s in your backpacks,” Baltz said. “If it’s the kind of thing that could be a weapon of any kind, it’ll be screened and you won’t be allowed to bring it into the courthouse.”
Additionally, they plan to install four new security cameras.
Baltz said the county won’t start the new security procedures until all the new equipment is in place and training is completed. He said they hope to make the changes in about three weeks, if all goes as planned.
Angie Sparks, the county’s clerk of district court, served on the courthouse security team. She told commissioners Tuesday that working at the courthouse for 20 years had convinced her of the need for these steps.
“You don’t think that it’s going to happen because we’re a smaller town in Montana, but it’s not a matter of if, it’s when,” she said.
Commissioner Susan Good Geise said she’s strongly in support of these additional security measures, and that she eventually hopes to see more security added at the City-County Building as well.
Baltz said the county wants the public to continue to feel comfortable coming to the courthouse.
“You’re welcome at the courthouse; it is our county courthouse, all of us,” he said. “However, we just think that it’s prudent in the times we live in now that we have some basic security, for weapons screening in particular, that’s happening at the courthouse.”
Baltz said the funding for the security contract will come from the county general fund.
Securitas also provides security for several other institutions in Helena, including the Montana State Capitol and Carroll College.