A major security upgrade made to the Knox County Courthouse more than a year ago will finally go live this morning.
The county commissioners in the fall of 2019 added several security measures to the courthouse, including the installation of metal detectors and x-ray machines.
Unfortunately, and largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ve merely been fixtures as deputies, according to Sheriff Doug Vantlin, had to be redistributed across all county offices, doing things like taking temperatures and enforcing the statewide mask mandate.
But this morning, the new metal detector and scanner will officially go live, he said, and be manned from now on by two sheriff’s deputies.
“When people enter that Seventh Street side, and anybody who has been there already knows, but you’ll have to follow the ropes,” he said. “You’ll be met by two deputies, and you’ll have to put your briefcase or purse or whatever onto the x-ray machine just like at an airport.
“Then you’ll have to walk through the metal detector.”
The commissioners, too, more than a year ago changed the way visitors enter and move through the courthouse.
The entrance facing Eighth Street, for example, was permanently closed to visitors, allowing only employee access.
Visitors, for months, have had to enter through the Seventh Street side, specifically through the south door. That entrance is the only one, too, that is handicapped accessible.
A year prior, commissioner Kellie Streeter applied for and received a $76,000 homeland security grant, which paid for a majority of the improvements. The county council offered an additional $37,000, and county clerk David Shelton found money within his own budget to complete the cost of installing electronic doors throughout the courthouse, ones both exterior and interior, including over at the annex.
The county council, too, eventually approved the hiring of two additional deputies.
Those two new deputies, the sheriff explained, were sent to the police academy — training that takes four months to complete.
One is back and on duty, he said. The other will finish within the month.
But with the recent COVID-19 surge easing — and more and more vaccines being given every day — Vantlin said he finally had the resources to begin using the new security equipment.
“We have enough personnel right now to go ahead and turn it on,” he said. “Before, our resources were just spread too thin.”
Vantlin said deputies at the courthouse actually turned the equipment on for awhile for a test run on Thursday; in just two hours, he said, they discovered four pocket knives and one set of brass knuckles.
Anyone found with such things on their person or in a bag will be asked to take them back to their vehicles. The deputies will not hold them, the sheriff said.
The equipment, he added, is a long time coming and should make for a much safer courthouse environment.
“Before, we had to just deal with every court, every office, individually,” he said. “If someone had a weapon, we’d have to react.
“Now, we will be able to stop that stuff right at the front door.”