Security upgrade in place with few complaints

LAWRENCEVILLE - At first Jan Jones didn't notice the difference.

Working for a law firm, Jones often has to go through security checkpoints to file paperwork in the Clerk of Court office. So when she went through metal detectors on Monday, she saw it as business as usual.

But the metal detectors Monday were in a different spot at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center, screening every visitor to the courthouse instead of just those going about court business.

The upgrades began Monday, seven months after a man on trial for rape overpowered deputies and went on a shooting spree, killing three people at the Fulton County Courthouse and one later that day.

"We knew there was an elemental risk," Superior Court Chief Judge Dawson Jackson said about Gwinnett's security set-up.

While the courtrooms were secure, judges, juries, lawyers and interested parties could meet in the building's lobby or cafeteria, where weapons could be found, he said.

"We've known for a long time there have been incidents in the unsecured portion of the facility," he said. "I think as a suburban court, it's needed more and more."

Jackson said the screening process didn't make anyone late for his courtroom.

In fact, Maj. Billy Shepherd said the longest wait was only about five minutes.

"If they have a problem, it's going to be when they have major courtroom activity," said Bill Holcombe, a Dacula resident who visited the commissioners' office Monday. "It's like rush hour traffic."

Holcombe said he supports security and thought the operation was run efficiently, but he called the screenings "overkill."

"It think the county system they had was very adequate. It's a big cost factor," he said.

In addition to moving the screening equipment to the justice center's front and rear entrances, the sheriff's department hired 14 additional deputies, closed Langley Drive in front of the building and swept the building Sunday for weapons.

In the future, the county has plans to build an atrium outside the front entrance to shelter people if lines do become a problem.