Houston County upgrades camera security at courthouse

PERRY -- From 55 vantage points, Houston County sheriff’s Lt. Tommy Spires can get a close up look at just about any spot inside or outside the Houston County Courthouse.

With a click of a mouse at his computer, Spires, head of courthouse security, can sit at his desk and zoom in on a person seated in one of the four courtrooms if he suspects any improper behavior.

“It’s not a safe world anymore,” Spires said of the need for the new $110,000 Pelco camera security system that added more eyes to the 10-year-old facility.

He can also zoom out and capture the wreck that just happened near the courthouse and play a taped video of it back for Perry police. Recordings are kept for 180 days and can be downloaded to a CD for more permanent storage.

Inside a separate control room, sheriff’s deputy Leo Frazier monitors all vantage points at once. Deputy Anthony Santiago was manning the control room Friday afternoon with Frazier on vacation.

Santiago demonstrated how the system can capture a license tag off a vehicle in the parking lot, or follow a person’s movement through the hallways, or zoom out to Perry Parkway, which runs parallel to the courthouse.

Before the addition of the new system, the camera view was limited to the four courtrooms and the tunnel that passes underground between the Houston County jail and the courthouse, Spires said. The tunnel is used to bring inmates over for court hearings.

The tunnel is still on the old system, which captures live footage only. An upgrade to include the tunnel on the new system would cost about $40,000, he said.

Also, to find out what was going on outside, Spires formerly had to take a long walk, or grab a golf cart and take a ride around the facility.

So far the new system has captured fender benders in the parking lot, teenagers on skateboards along the outside corridors on weekends and a man who snatched a cigarette out of the mouth of a courthouse employee who was smoking in a designated area in the breezeway, Spires said. The man was arrested and his actions captured on video for court purposes.

The system has been on line for about four weeks. It was made possible through a Byrne Justice Assistance Grant administrated by the U.S. Department of Justice. The grant was secured through the district attorney’s office.

The improved camera security adds to other measures already in place at the courthouse, such as panic buttons for judges and for employees working in offices from Superior Court records to purchasing, Spires said.

Also, the courthouse has a key card security system that has a master control that can account for every employee’s entrance and exit from the building. It can also lock or unlock any door or all doors at any time at the push of a button, Spires said.

The armed security officers, who are sheriff’s deputies, can communicate by radio with each other and with 911, he said.

The courthouse is also designed for a single public access way in which visitors are required to check in with security and pass through metal detectors.

A security officer greets courthouse employees arriving in the morning and departing in the afternoon through a side entrance to the employee parking area, which is separate from the public parking area.

Also, judges and their administrative staff have both a public and private entrance/exit. The public entrance to the judges’ chambers now includes an additional camera that will allow personnel inside those offices to view who’s coming to call. The entrance already is secured by double doors that require visitors to be buzzed in by someone on the inside.

Although the new camera system improves courthouse security, Spires has not given up his habit of walking the hallways and grounds throughout the day. He was on patrol before taking over security two years ago and enjoys walking.

Spires is also in and out of county offices -- sometimes undetected, but most times he’ll stop to talk and accept a cup of coffee.

“I just want to look them in the eye and know everything is all right,” he said.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.