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Sheriff: Security system an "unsung success" for courthouse

| Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2004

KITTANNING -- When you enter the Armstrong County Courthouse, smile, you're on camera, and your every movement is being recorded. No, Big Brother is not watching you, but rather the Armstrong County Sheriff's Department.

Sheriff Larry Crawford said a courthouse security system that has been in place for at least three years may be an unsung success.

"Our security system is there for the safety of the public as well as our courthouse employees," Crawford said. "We've never had anyone try to enter the building with unauthorized weapons or dangerous devices, but I believe that just knowing a good security system is in place is in itself a deterrent. If it prevents one needless tragedy it is worth every penny and every minute of our time."

Crawford said a walk-through metal detector was installed about five years ago and in 2001 a computerized camera monitoring system was added.

"We have seven cameras scanning the major entrances to the courthouse," he said, "and every one coming and going is covered. All video images are recorded for review if necessary. Five years ago we had 11 possible entrances that visitors and employees could use to enter or leave the building. Today we have channeled that down to one."

As visitors or employees enter the front doorway they pass through a walk-through metal detector. Metal objects such as firearms, knives, large belt buckles or keys will cause the detector to sound an alarm, alerting a deputy. Visitors are required to empty their pockets, purses or brief cases of all metal items and place them into a plastic bin for further scrutiny. Crawford added that while a number of people in the county have permits to carry concealed firearms, they may not bring them into the courthouse. Several lock boxes are positioned adjacent to the walk-through metal detector where visitors with firearms may secure their weapons and give the key to the deputy on duty.

"Occasionally we have someone entering the building with a pocket knife or nail clipper they forgot was in their pocket," Crawford said. "When the detector alarm goes off, they are asked to place the object in the plastic bin and it is safeguarded by the deputy and returned to the visitor when they leave the building. We've never had anyone complain about this and we've received good cooperation from all visitors."

Crawford said the cost of the entire system was just under $15,000 and so far, it has worked without any major malfunctions. A sheriff's deputy monitors the system and greets visitors from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every weekday. A deputy's average annual salary is $25,000, Crawford said.

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