Kansas County Steps up Courthouse Security to Provide for Rapid Response

The Wyandotte County sheriff's office has added a wireless alarm system in the county courthouse for quicker response if violence erupts inside a courtroom, judge's chamber or county offices.

The system, which went into operation Friday, consists of a wireless transmitter and a button that, when pushed, sends a recorded message across all of the sheriff's radio frequencies, alerting the office that a deputy is needed. The buttons also have been installed in the treasurer's and several clerk's offices.

"In the past, if somebody needed some help or assistance, they would have had to pick up the phone and call down here" to the sheriff's office, said Undersheriff Rick Mellott. "Then we would have to get people together from down here or call out on radios to get a response."

The new system saves a lot of time, he said.

"It is an immediate notification," Mellott said. "When they push the button, the alarm goes out over all of the deputies' radios and they can respond immediately. It tells them where to respond. The response time to where the problem is is much quicker."

The sheriff's department has installed 80 of the buttons and transmitters in the courthouse, the justice complex and the court services building.

"It is important to the sheriff because the sheriff, by state law, is responsible for courthouse security," said Brad Ratliff, a spokesman for Wyandotte County Sheriff LeRoy Green Jr.

Concerns over the safety of judges and others in the courtrooms was heightened nationwide after inmate Brian Nichols overpowered a deputy and killed a judge and three other people in March in Fulton County, Ga., earlier this year.

Locally, there have been occasional problems.

"There has been nothing as serious as what has happened in Atlanta," said Capt. Mike Freeman, chief deputy. "We have had some people boisterous inside the courtroom where a judge has wanted them out. We have also had people get into fights on their way out of the courtroom."

He said fights have also broken out in the hallways outside the courtrooms while people were waiting for a hearing, but to his best recollection no one had been seriously injured.

"The sheriff wanted to make sure the judges and citizens in those areas had an immediate response when there is a serious situation and a life is being threatened," Ratliff said.

The new system, which cost $23,000, is the latest in security advances at the courthouse. Earlier this year, county officials said the courthouse added two metal detectors and employee pass cards and was working on other changes. The sheriff plans to add surveillance cameras soon as well as a security gate near the public entrance to the county jail.

"You always have to be thinking worst-case scenario," Ratliff said, "and you have to be prepared and be thinking how to get the quickest response if things should go in the worst-case scenario."

Kansas City Star

Knight Ridder content Copyright 2005 provided via The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.