Beefing up Allen Courthouse security

By By Doris Maricle / American Press

OBERLIN — Visitors and employees of the Allen Parish Courthouse can feel a bit safer now after parish officials beefed up

security measures at the historic courthouse.

“It’s a big change, but I think it will be good for the courthouse to help keep everyone safe,” Sheriff Doug Hebert III said.

A walk-through metal detector, similar

to those used at most other courthouses and airports, is now located at

the front entrance,

and access to the courthouse has been limited, with all visitors

now entering through a single front door.

All other entrances into the courthouse will remain locked, with limited access available to employees with a special key

swipe card issued by the Sheriff’s Office.

As part of the increased security

measures bags will be screened, and anyone who has a cellphone, tobacco

product, knife or

other weapon will be asked to return them to their vehicles or

dispose of them before entering the courthouse. Signs posted

just outside the courthouse alert visitors of the new

restrictions.

“It’s sad in this day and time that we

have to do this, to keep violent crimes from occurring, but we would be

amiss if something

happened and we weren’t prepared,” Hebert said. “If someone is

going to do wrong or we do have something happen, hopefully

we have been able to minimize where it happens.”

Among the other security upgrades, cameras have been installed in the hallways and courtrooms.

“Most of the people really appreciate

what we have done and understand it is a necessity,” Hebert said. “There

are a few who

have complained that they have been inconvenienced because they

can’t have their cellphone, but most agree it is a good step

forward.”

Though there have been no major incidents in the past, the extra security measures are meant to make the public and courthouse

employees feel safe and keep authorities a step ahead of potential threats, Hebert said.

“We were very fortunate that nothing has ever happened,” he said. “We’ve always had a bailiff in the courtroom upstairs, but

if something happened downstairs, no one was around.”

District Attorney Todd Nesom said he has received a lot of compliments from people, especially courthouse employees, who say

the increased security measures make them feel safer.

“Most of them say it’s about time,” Nesom said. “A few people are upset because they can’t bring their cellphones in, but

most people understand.”

Parish officials have been discussing the need for increased security measures for some time, Nesom said. It wasn’t until

the Supreme Court sent a notice to the judges and evaluated the courthouse security that things began happening, he said.

Installation of the enhanced system began last fall, but retrofitting the older courthouse with modern technology created

some problems, he said. Crews completed the installation in April and received state fire marshal approval.

Deputies have been trained to handle the walk-through and a hand-held metal detector and how to screen bags for contraband.

Deputy Roy D. Strother said zippers, jewelry, medical metal plates and other metal products create some problems during security

screenings.

Since installing the system about three weeks ago, Hebert said deputies have not had to confiscate any items.