On their guard
The world is a more security-oriented place in recent years. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the world has grown more accustomed to the presence of security scanners and long lines in the name of safety.
While the Ward County Courthouse in Minot may not have the traffic of a major airport, it is still a secure place. There is only one public entrance to the building, which is through the front door facing Third Street Southeast.
“You know this is going to happen when you come to the airport. You know this is going to happen when you come here,” said Capt. Bob Barnard of the Ward County Sheriff’s Department in an interview about the security system in place at the entrance.
“If you’re younger than 40, this is just a way of life,” said Elwood Smith, a long-time courthouse security officer. “If you’re older than 40, it’s annoying.”
“Well, I guess our job is to keep weapons or anything that’s going to hurt anybody else. We’re trying to keep the individuals inside the building and all the courts safe,” said Marvin Wierenga, a courthouse security guard. “There have been bad experiences in other counties where people have brought in weapons, shot people in the courthouses, burned courthouses up. It’s our job to stop them here at the front door.”
The metal detector and X-ray machine are manned at the courthouse between when the building opens at 8 a.m. and closes at 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. At least two guards are stationed there at any time.
According to Smith, the security system in place dates to July 2006.
Since 2006, the courthouse has installed a newer metal detector, or magnetometer, and X-ray machine using a grant from the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services in a program for courthouse security enhancements, according to Barnard. The metal detector is still the same model as the 8- to 10-year-old original detector now housed as a backup, but it was important to get a new one, he said, to replace the aging one.
Wierenga said that the guards often find concealed weapons, including guns, knives and heavy tools.
“We find just about anything you can imagine. It all comes through this door,” he said. “We found a dog in a women’s purse one day. She didn’t say anything, we put it through and saw the X-ray and there was a puppy. She had a dog in her purse, a chihuahua or something like that.”
“We’ve found some concealed weapons, like the knife in the belt buckle, but that wasn’t necessarily somebody that was trying to sneak it in. It’s something they may wear on a daily basis and just forgot about it,” said Barnard. “If it’s an illegal weapon, we confiscate it. Brass knuckles, a knife that is too large, something like that, we’ll confiscate. Other than that, if it’s something that may be deemed maybe, possibly dangerous, like a metal fork, then we’ll take it for safekeeping and give it back when you exit the building.”
Smith said that many people have grown so accustomed to the security protocol that they often leave metallic items like their belt or other things in their vehicle to make the entrance a little quicker.
All of the guards are deputized within the Ward County Sheriff’s Department and can and often are assigned to other activities.
Wierenga has been a prisoner transporter for the department for about five years and has been doing entrance security for only about a year and a half.
The times are constantly changing, but Barnard believes that the security in place is adequate for the county’s current needs, and a large improvement over the old method of only inspecting people entering courtrooms for a jury trial. Still, new threats pop up from time to time, such as the new, plastic guns “printed” with 3-D plastic printers.
“That’s something that we’re aware of,” Barnard said. “But because they still visually check all the property that comes through, it’s not a great concern yet.
“For the most part the security has been met pretty positively. It seems to make people feel more secure. There has been very little grumbling anymore about having to come through security,” he added.