Polk County Public Safety Committee February 2019

Polk County Sheriff's Office's Scott Ford talks about the security assessment he made of county buildings in recent weeks. / Kevin Myrick

Security is a growing concern for Polk County officials within their several buildings, and the needs for greater protections only grows after an assessment was made by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office on local facilities.

County Commissioners heard from the Sheriff’s Office’s Captain Scott Ford in a follow-up after he provided additional instruction and heard the concerns of employees during a recent tour of county buildings, and made several suggestions on how improvements can be made with some immediate low-cost spending, and other areas that might cost additional funds.

More specifically, Ford wants to see items like panic buttons that can alert 911 of issues immediately of problems or a situation like an active shooter and send officers immediately to a facility, and ways for people to escape but also block the ability of a shooter to get at employees or those who are coming in for legitimate business.

“We went through most of all the buildings and went through and heard what their concerns were about their safety,” Ford said.

He pointed toward examples of disgruntled citizens coming in to county buildings wanting to discuss a problem that might be armed, and toward heightened security needs ahead of the forthcoming 2020 Presidential election as another.

Some protections already exist for Polk County buildings. For instance in the County Administration building in Cedartown, the interior includes several vault spaces for people to utilize in such an instance, and some protections for people who are looking to get out.

However, Ford said the county needs to look at barriers within these offices and buzzer systems to control the access of people who might come in with ill intentions in mind. He also wants to look at securing doors at county buildings to ensure public access is limited to certain areas, and in specific addressed the need for greater courthouse security.

That would include blocking access between the two side courthouse entrances in Cedartown, and also look to block roadway access between and behind the courthouse to provide greater security access for judges and court employees overall.

He specifically said the idea behind closing off the space between the two courthouses were to provide greater security to keep inmates within a controlled area and prevent the potential for escape.

“We’ve got several high profile court cases coming up,” Commission Chair Jennifer Hulsey added.

She said it was an area the county needed to address soon as those cases come to trial, including the recent shooting death of four and injuring of a fifth victim in Rockmart in January, and the shooting death of Det. Kristen Hearne in 2017 as that case progresses in court.

A greater amount of security cameras are also needed for many of the buildings, Ford said. That would provide employees the ability to ensure that when they are walking out to their vehicles, they will know if someone is waiting for them in the parking lot or if people who aren’t supposed to be in an area are skulking about.

Ford said he met with employees first as a group as he went from building to building, then heard from individual departments as his assessment went along.

He did add that employees questioned a county policy that doesn’t allow them to carry firearms into buildings for their own self-protection, but does allow citizens to bring in weapons with proper permitting as a sidearm into the county administration building, as an example.

The county could potentially bar people from entering the administration building – again as an example – from carrying handguns within, but would have to post signs and a security checkpoint at entrances to the building. Or any building that the county wanted to specifically bar weapons from within (which at the moment includes the pair of Polk County Courthouses, where those who want to conduct business within find themselves facing metal detectors and Sheriff’s deputies.)

Security and safety of county employees will continue as an on-going discussion as more specific requests are turned into potential projects for upgrades within the building. However, the county is wary of investing too much money into facilities they may one day seek to replace or completely renovate in the future.

Commissioner Chuck Thaxton pointed toward that and needs for upgrades at several volunteer fire stations around Polk County as examples of how the county might get greater benefits from full upgrades of facilities through planning now, instead of looking to make changes from one area to the next without a cohesive vision in mind.

The Public Safety Committee’s February session focused too on the volunteer fire stations and getting back into planning for the future of the department, with a specific immediate request for an upgrade from Public Safety Director Randy Lacey.

Lacey asked the committee to look at upgrading software capabilities for the department which would help in tracking hours for volunteer firefighters and speed up the flow of reporting for state and insurance requirements.

He said it wasn’t yet programmed into his budget for FY 2020, but that he planned to add the cost of the software with the Commission’s approval. He also said getting broadband to a few of his stations remains difficult, and that too was an area where Hulsey said the county already was working toward making improvements.

Connectivity issues are being felt at the most rural of stations in Antioch and Esom Hill, where prior to Lacey’s arrival didn’t have phone service. They do now have fax machines able to send reports, but he said they don’t always work.

The committee also heard updates on the roofing project at the Polk County Jail, which was on an immediate hold due to wet weather last week, and from Polk County Police Chief Kenny Dodd, who said the department headquarters roof had also sprang leaks and needed repairs.