By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
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The 2013 budget request was made Thursday when Sheriff's Office officials met with the three county commissioners, County Administrator Jim Jones and Budget Director Kay Stevens.
“It's just for coverage because we have only one person now who's responsible for covering as many as five courts that could be in session at the same time” at the Clallam County Courthouse in Port Angeles, Benedict said after the meeting.
If the $80,000 request is approved, the county would hire a pair of part-timers to initially backfill at the jail.
The idea is to free up trained corrections officers to help courtroom-courthouse Security Deputy Gary Gorss cover the Superior Court, District Court, Family Court and Juvenile Court.
On Monday, Superior Court judges renewed their request for a courthouse security checkpoint station.
During that meeting, it was said that Benedict had proposed a single point-of-entry with a metal detector for the top floor of the courthouse — where several courtrooms are located and which is accessible by two main entrances — in addition to the part-time deputies.
But the sheriff Thursday said he never proposed a single point-of-entry and that he remains opposed to routine metal-detector screenings such as those conducted by the Transportation Security Administration in airports.
“I am inflexible in terms of setting up TSA-style screening,” Benedict said.
“I don't think that's a solution to the problem. I think that's an expense that I'm certainly not willing to bear, and I don't think the taxpayers want to bear it, either.”
Benedict added: “My solution to any real or perceived security problems for the courtrooms is the funding of two part-time corrections deputies to give me the manpower to put an armed, trained officer in every court of record when it is conducting criminal calendars, as well as the family courts.
“So it's my goal to do that,” he said.
Commissioner Mike Doherty asked Jones to meet with the judges and Benedict to work out the details.
In the Monday meeting with the judges, Jones said the county could absorb the cost of hiring two part-time deputies because of conservative estimates on timber and sales tax revenue.
Security has been a hot topic at the courthouse since a March incident in which a Grays Harbor County sheriff's deputy was attacked and shot with her own sidearm at the courthouse in Montesano.
The deputy, Polly Davin, was not seriously injured and returned to work shortly after the incident.
Last spring, a Clallam County security committee was formed at the request of the three Superior Court judges to look for ways to improve security for the entire courthouse, not just the courtrooms.
Committee members in September made suggestions that ranged from part-time deputies to an airport-like metal detector at a single point-of-entry for the entire building.
“If we say we're going to have a single point-of-entry for upstairs, we still have two other courts, and we also have the traffic court that we hold in Sequim,” Benedict said.
“Why shouldn't they have single-point entry? It could quickly blossom into something that could approach $1 million a year to run.”
Gorss divides his time between the courthouse at 223 E. Fourth St. in Port Angeles and the Clallam County Juvenile and Family Services facility across town, where he covers Juvenile Court proceedings.
The Forks Police Department generally provides the security for Clallam County District Court No. 2 in Forks, Benedict said.
Clallam County occasionally deploys a metal detector in high-profile cases.
Benedict noted that an armed corrections deputy accompanies in-custody defendants for trials and pretrial hearings.
“We already have a tremendous presence in the courts day in and out,” he said.
Jail Superintendent Ron Sukert said the part-time deputies would provide good flexibility for scheduling.
Benedict said he envisions the part-timers working a total of about 40 hours per week.
As for a single-point screening, Doherty said it is important to have open access to a courthouse in a democracy “instead of looking like an armed castle.”
He suggested that the sheriff reach a compromise with the judges and use the metal detector more often.
“We've got the equipment, and we've done it in the past,” Benedict said.
“They [the judges] just have to ask for it.”
Jones will present a balanced recommended budget to commissioners in a public hearing Nov. 13.
A final budget will be approved by resolution Dec. 3 or 11.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.