No plans to beef up security for now at the county Government Services Center

Those entering Hamilton City Council chambers will soon have to pass through a metal detector as an added security measure following the recommendation from the city police chief.

Will Butler County Commissioners follow suit with increased security to the county portion of the building that shares a lobby with the city?

The short answer is no, or not at least anytime soon. The court wing entrance to county common pleas and domestic relations courtrooms on the second floor have standard metal detectors, armed deputies and equipment for searching all bags, but the rest of the building remains open.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

In addition to the three-floor court wing, the 11-floor Government Services Center houses numerous offices, including clerk of courts, county treasurer, county coroner, Job and Family Services and county prosecutor and public defender office.

ExploreMetal detector to be added to Hamilton City Council chambers

Built in 1999, the GSC has numerous points of entry, stairwells, escalators and multiple elevators from the ground floor to the top level. There are no metal detectors to walk through and no security personnel in the lobby or on most floors.

But that doesn’t mean someone isn’t watching. Over the years, the camera security system has been been upgraded, and personnel is watching through monitors.

And according to County Administrator Judi Boyko, “nearly all” individual offices have built-in safety measures ranging from secure entries, to glass enclosures, to smart ring technology, where visitors are identified in some manner before entry into an independent office.

Boyko said the county is conducting a real property inventories and space analyses of commission-owned property, which has happened in some form in past years, but she said “I’m optimistic the 2022 approach will address and hopefully achieve the board of commissioners’ objective to emphasize safety and security of the Government Services Center, its visitors and tenants, while acknowledging taxpayers funded the building.”

Two county commissioners say they have never felt unsafe in their offices on the sixth floor or in the commission chambers on the second floor mezzanine that is open, perched above the lobby.

Commissioner T.C. Rogers said, “It’s a matter of balancing it for the amount of threat you think is out there. I realize one incident can be a crisis, but do you change your whole system for the possibility of one incident?”

Is Rogers concerned about someone with a threat accessing the council chambers?

“With my background, I am ready,” he said.

Rogers did acknowledge the commission has had “concerns” at some meetings and did have increased security - armed deputies - in the room.

“It is the people’s building and we don’t have plans to change things now, but we have studied different levels of security, when we up those that is still under consideration,’ Rogers said.

Commissioner Don Dixon said the county is always evaluating security that has to evolve and change with the times and there is a committee evaluating the issue.

“We don’t have any immediate plans (for added security) but that doesn’t mean there won’t be some changes made shortly because they have been talking about it,” Dixon said

Dixon also referred to GSC as “the people’s building” and added he would “hate” to see overly restrictive security measures.

People should be free to walk in, go about their business and leave without being searched and questioned, Dixon said.

“I would personally like to keep it that way as long as we can. We haven’t had any major incidents on our side,” Dixon said. But he said there are suggestions for added security, especially in the lobby, that could happen in the near future.

Commissioner Cindy Carpenter, former county clerk of courts, believes more security is needed now and the talking and space studies are not moving fast enough to address the needs.

“What has to happen, does someone have to get hurt before we do something?,” Carpenter questioned.

Carpenter said she believes waiting on the results of the most recent space study is a “cop out.” She noted past studies have shown the county is paying for vacant space and there is real need for more security in the entire building.

“But there isn’t a majority of the commission to support it,” Carpenter said.

The Butler County Sheriff’s Office is responsible to secure the court wing at the GSC. And talking about specifics of measures in place isn’t “good security,” said Chief Deputy Anthony Dwyer.

He said it is the commissioners’ decision to secure the entire building.

If that decision is made, Dwyer said the sheriff’s office would work with the commission to make it happen.

“There have been a lot of discussions about the building since it was built, reviewing security protocols and discussions with county administrators,” Dwyer said, added the sheriff’s office can have more discussions if requested by the commission.

If any office holder reaches out to the sheriff’s office for added permanent security, Dwyer said they would work to provide it. BCSO is contracted to provide armed security to several offices, including Job and Family Services.

“But we try to be good stewards. If anybody in that building thought they had a contentious issue and asked for our assistance we would grant it,” Dwyer said.

The chief deputy stopped short of saying the GSC needs enhanced security, but said he has “concerns” about all county buildings that are not secured.

“Every place where someone could be upset concerns me,” Dwyer said. “Not just GSC. That building as well as others could draw an irate person, but to secure every county facility in the whole county I don’t know is reasonable.”

He did say he believes the GSC is more secure than many county buildings because of the armed presence in the court wing and the response time is a matter of “seconds” to the lobby and many other offices should a violent incident happen.

“That is a huge deterrent,” Dwyer said.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

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