By Michelle Guffey
Killeen Daily Herald
BELTON – In this day and age, when a bottle of lotion or a tube of toothpaste can't be carried onto flights, security is a serious matter – even at the county level.
So, when the new district courts building was being erected on Loop 121 in Belton, Bell County commissioners made sure that proper and effective security measures were included in the plans.
Security features in the old district courts building in downtown Belton were nonexistent.
Lawyers, clients, victims or passers-by could walk into the judges' chambers unannounced; anyone could walk in with a weapon and no one would know until it was too late.
The new building has airport-type security.
Upon walking into the new facility, all visitors – except employees with proper identification badges – are required to walk through a metal detector and pass their personal belongings through an X-ray machine.
But some lawyers who have to enter and exit the building several times a day would like officials to devise a way that would let them enter the building much like courts building employees do. They have badges that allow them to bypass the metal detector and X-ray machine.
During a tour of the building last May, a few days before the new courts building opened, Belton attorney Joe Weiner observed security features at the front door from the balcony above. Weiner commented that the enhanced security didn't bother him, but expressed an interest in the employees' badges that allowed them to bypass the metal detector and X-ray machine.
"Hopefully, they will have that for people in and out of the district courts on a regular basis," he said.
Temple attorney Michael Magana praised the security in the new building, calling it safe and sound.
In the old building, victims of crimes or individuals going through divorce had to share the same small space outside the courtrooms – a dangerous situation in which emotions would run high.
"It was an accident waiting to happen," Magana said. "The new building is a safer environment."
But officials should make it easier for attorneys to enter the courthouse, he said."I do think we should have badges and security clearances," he said, commenting that he had been to other courthouses where attorneys had those privileges.
Changes in some policies could occur soon.
In July, a committee with the local bar association met with county commissioners and the sheriff to discuss proposals that would allow members of the bar to carry identification badges.
County Judge Jon Burrows said the bar association is looking at how to implement the proposals.
"They are well on their way with the mechanics that will ease entry into the courthouse for members of the local bar," Burrows said.
Attorneys' briefcases and boxes would still be X-rayed, but each attorney would have an identification badge.
"For someone who is (in the courts building) three or four times a day, I could see how it would be a benefit," Burrows said.
Commissioners are waiting for the bar association's committee to finalize its proposals before making a decision.
Contact Michelle Guffey at firstname.lastname@example.org