Wisconsin County Faces Cutbacks on Courthouse Security

Oct. 4--When the La Crosse County Courthouse was planned 10 years ago, adding a security checkpoint at the main entrance was considered essential, La Crosse County Circuit Judge John Perlich said.

While in the old building, he saw a woman bring a sword to small claims court, Perlich said.

Over the years, the security checkpoint and its metal detectors have kept thousands of weapons and potentially dangerous items out of the building.

Now the county administrator, directed by the county board to find $1.4 million in potential budget cuts, has suggested having the courthouse entrance go unstaffed.

The move would save an estimated $204,584 by eliminating five full-time jobs.

But the idea isn't sitting well with Perlich and others who work in the three-story courthouse.

"When you look at what's been going on at other courthouses in this country, the need is clearly there," Perlich said Tuesday.

La Crosse County District Attorney Scott Horne said some employees already have expressed concerns about safety if staff are pulled from the entrance.

"I was asked immediately about bulletproof glass in the windows," Horne said. "That would be unfortunate, because it places a barrier between the law-abiding public and public offices."

The checkpoint now requires everyone -- including judges and other courthouse personnel -- pass through a metal detector, along with bags, purses and packages.

It is staffed by at least two of the five full-time Buildings Services employees, who use a wand to manually check those who set off the larger detector.

Questionable items are held while the owner is in the building and can be reclaimed when the person leaves.

If the cuts go through, there will be no way to keep such dangerous items out of the courthouse, Building Services Supervisor John Wittenberg said.

But the county would lose more than just its main entrance security, he said.

"We work in cooperation with other internal and external agencies when a situation arises that requires uniformed personnel," Wittenberg said. "We do our best to provide a safe environment for staff and visitors alike. We think we do a pretty good job."

Copyright (c) 2006, La Crosse Tribune, Wis. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.

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