Polk County Public Safety Committee May 2019

Polk County’s Public Safety Committee gathered for it’s monthly session on May 16 to hear from several department heads on security and safety issues.

Polk County is prepping for two of their highest profile court cases in years. The death penalty is a possibility, and with the eyes of the public watching, the public safety commission is looking to increase courthouse security for the benefit of both the staff and the accused.

Doug Elkins came to the group’s meeting prepped with photographs and ideas for structures, and while nothing was officially approved, those present did get a general idea of what their options were.

Most of the ideas took form as fences. The group is attempting to balance functionality with appearance, but since Courthouse No. 2 is surrounded by streets, the visibility, size, and numerous other factors naturally have to be considered when choosing the right one.

There is still no exact timeline for when the trials will begin, but the group is clearly looking to take action soon.

“I understand the board wants it to look nice, but we have to do something sooner than later,” County Chairperson Jennifer Hulsey said.

While the fences would likely be temporary, the committee seemed interested in funding a permanent sally port that would allow officers to park inside and escort inmates without outside interference.

It’s an item used in numerous police stations and one that Sheriff Johnny Moats described as a need.

“That’s a need when unloading inmates,” Moats said. “We need a sally port because everyone just walks up on us. It needs to be built into the building, I’d say.”

The group is considering the appearance of the port, too, and should Courthouse #2 become obsolete, the sally port could be re-purposed. Elkins will return to future meetings with more ideas, but before anything is approved or funded, the Polk County Board of Commissioners would have to review and vote for what they actually build.

Any fences or ports added would be the latest in a long line of security improvements the board has implemented. Earlier last year, Courthouse No. 2 saw improved security cameras and additional magnetic locks. There are also badge readers and other safety measures included. Most recently, a new roof was put on the structure.

The safety concerns extend much farther than the courthouse, and the Polk School District Police’s Michael McGee was present during the May 16 meeting to speak on plans to run through their active shooter plans.

While the plans are all on paper, the county has been adamant about officers getting hands-on practice with their plans. Now, with the creation of the PSD Police, there’s another element that needs to be given practical experience.

“We’ll have a couple different sessions and run everyone through the plans,” McGee said. “We’ve been talking about it for several months.”

Such training typically takes place when students are out of school, but there was talk of potentially having a few volunteer students around to make the training more realistic. McGee also addressed the recent Rockmart High School lockdown and mentioned he would be reviewing the correct course of action when dealing with shooting threats.

“We’re trying to train them because some are really good, but some of them really don’t think about it and they panic,” McGee said. “Their main goal (should be) to notify the principal or SRO first and then 911. We’re addressing that with each one of the schools. We’re gonna do some training with them and get them up to date.”

There were numerous other items on the agenda, but Assistant County Manager Barry Atkinson was not available to cover the vehicle accidents, the standalone 911 committee, or the courthouse benches and planters. Each was tabled.

Those interested in the future of any items can look forward to county commission meetings on the second Tuesday of every month at 72 Clines Ingram Jackson Rd. beginning at 7 p.m. Work sessions are hosted the day before meetings at 5:15 p.m.