Jefferson County leaders concerned about security at county buildings

Jefferson County leaders are concerned about security at public buildings from Beaumont to Port Arthur.

Elected officials and department heads have brought up the topic several times during this week's budget hearings.

We've become accustomed to walking through metal detectors and watching deputies check our bags when we arrive at the Jefferson County Courthouse, but that's not the scene at all county public buildings.

One example--the tax office in mid-county near the airport. There's daily security coverage but it's not full time, and that concerns Jefferson County Tax Assessor Allison Nathan Getz.

"The tax office is not necessarily the happiest place that you go, and sometimes people are unhappy, emotions are high, and we just want to make sure that we have the safest place we can provide for our community."

The office has added glass dividing employees from those who come into the building, but at this week's budget hearings, some county leaders suggested bullet-proof glass or additional security at public buildings throughout Jefferson County.

Commissioner Michael Sinegal says the environment he and other county employees sometimes face at the sub-courthouse can be concerning. There are justice of the peace courts and other county departments, including a tax office here.

"People come in disgruntled sometimes," said Sinegal. "We have mental cases that just walk in the courthouse and the first person says anything to us they get irate, and thank God we have deputies and myself to kind of calm some of the anger that might be there, but if they're targeted at me then who protects me, you know."

Sheriff Zena Stephens told commissioners she and her team will visit all the county buildings and come up with a comprehensive and cost effective security plan.

"What we have the opportunity to do now is try to develop a long-range plan so we don't have to keep putting a band aid on it."

One thing that's restricting the sheriff's manpower is that specific deputies work as bailiffs and are assigned to judges, which is unique to Jefferson County, but it's a tradition commissioners made clear they don't want to disrupt, to avoid upsetting judges.

"Out of tradition we probably will explore some other ways to better secure our annex buildings without trusting those people or using them how we all have probably observed in other areas of our state."'

The sheriff's plan to boost security throughout the county involves using a combination of her deputies along with private security officers manning the different facilities.

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