Security Improved At Gulfport's City Courthouse

Tom Payne is Gulfport's senior judge. When he took over last November, he upgraded security around the 15th Street courthouse.

"It doesn't take a security specialist to recognize that if you have access by anybody, and all open doorways, that's a safety concern," Payne said. "There's a risk."

It was a risk Gulfport no longer wanted to take. So the city spent $5,000 on new security equipment. Every courthouse visitor must walk through a magnetometer. The alarm system has made it virtually impossible for people to get weapons past the front door.

In the past, Payne said sneaking weapons or drugs into a courtroom was easy.

"That's what concerns me," the judge said. "In less than a month, we've taken 158 items off of people that were a danger to the staff and the public, right here in the municipal court of Gulfport. And that's scary."

Monitoring the front door are six security officers. They've been cross-trained to do both warrant work and court security.

For people like Marilyn Barnes who work at the Gulfport courthouse, the added security is a mixed blessing. Right after Barnes walked through the magnetometer, she said the machine can be inconvenient "because I go in and out a lot. But it's because of security. And if we do it, everybody else knows that have to do it."

Payne responded to the inconvenient statement by saying, "If it wasn't inconvenient, it wouldn't be good security."

New locks are on all doors. So only a few people can get into secured courthouse areas.

Judge Payne admitted the new security system isn't perfect, "but we are 100 percent safer now than we were before."

One way Gulfport thinks it can improve courthouse security is by having fewer people at the courthouse. So next month, people will be allowed to pay their traffic ticket fines by mail, rather than by showing up in court.