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Sheriff touts plan for courthouse security

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BOWLING GREEN - Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn stepped squarely into the debate over increasing security at the county courthouse, notifying elected officials yesterday that "the time has come" to control access at the courthouse, and he ought to be in charge of it.

For nine years, a court security department overseen by the common pleas judges has been responsible for security at the courthouse and adjacent county office complex, where visitors are free to walk in without passing through a security check.

With the completion last year of a $2.2 million atrium that connects the complex under roof, and the increase in court-related acts of violence in other parts of the country, county officials are taking a hard look at reducing the number of entrances to the courthouse and requiring everyone entering to pass through a metal detector.

"No one knows when someone is going to attempt to escape, harm someone, or take out their aggression on a county employee or citizen," Sheriff Wasylyshyn wrote in a letter to other elected officials. "If someone uses a weapon in our county complex, we are going to have to answer to the public why we waited to do what other counties and municipalities did years ago."

Asked how soon he would like to see the county complex buttoned up, the sheriff replied: "Last year, two years ago."

The county commissioners have said they favor requiring everyone who enters the complex, including employees, to pass through a security checkpoint, but they want a consensus of judges and other elected officials before moving in that direction.

At the judges' request, the commissioners have scheduled a meeting with elected officials

for 11 a.m. tomorrow in the commissioners' hearing room to discuss the issue, County Administrator Andrew Kalmar said.

Commissioner Tim Brown said the sheriff's letter came at an appropriate time.

"I'm glad the sheriff has come in gung-ho and has a lot of good ideas about things, and certainly, this is one that should be put on the table," Mr. Brown said.

Common Pleas Judge Alan Mayberry, administrative judge for the court, said he had received the letter but didn't want to comment yet.

The judges met last week, and Judge Mayberry said at that time it seemed "inevitable" the county would begin requiring visitors to pass through metal detectors.

Sheriff Wasylyshyn said he was not set on a specific plan for controlling access at the court complex, but would be open to what elected officials and the public want.

He said while the Ohio Revised Code gives him authority to have charge of the courthouse, he hoped to work with judges on taking over that responsibility, most likely by merging the court security staff into the sheriff's office.

Court security now operates on a $162,580 annual budget.

Chief Court Constable Thomas Chidester agreed that Wood County needs to control access to the buildings, but Mr. Chidester said he was surprised to hear the sheriff wanted to take over that role.

The sheriff's predecessor, John Kohl, did not assume the court security function when the judges created the department nine years ago, but Sheriff Wasylyshyn said he sees the discussion on expanding court security as his window of opportunity to take over that role.

According to the Buckeye State Sheriff's Association, county sheriffs run court security in 72 of Ohio's 88 counties, Sheriff Wasylyshyn said.

"No one is better trained or prepared to handle court security than my office," he said in his letter. "We do not need an additional county law enforcement agency and all the bureaucracy that goes along with it."

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-353-5972.

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