Jefferson County pursues operating courthouse security in-house

Contract with private firm ends in December

PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County staff are starting the paperwork to have the sheriff’s office take over courthouse security after the county’s contract ends with Phoenix Protective Corp in December.

The change would cost more but provide better protection and give county officials more control, staff members told commissioners.

No date was set Monday to finalize the change.

Jefferson County staff began evaluating alternatives for maintaining courthouse security in May. Staff initially recommended during a June 6 workshop that the county issue a request for proposal (RFP) the sheriff’s office could participate in, but commissioners decided not to do that, and instead discuss it further in another workshop.

Financial difference

On Monday, County Administrator Mark McCauley demonstrated the differences between a private security and the sheriff’s department.

The financial cost of bringing the sheriff’s office in as courthouse security would be $25,000 to $40,000 more than the $135,000 currently budgeted, commissioners were told.

McCauley said that, while a private security firm costs less, training is less rigorous than the training deputies receive.

That includes de-escalation training, which places a greater liability on the county, he said.

Private security officers, unlike sheriff’s deputies, also are not authorized to carry firearms in the courthouse, making it a less-secure facility.

“Given the continued polarization of the country, I don’t want to say the likelihood, but the possibility, of having some sort of major event in the courthouse … having a trained sheriff staff here who are going to respond, whatever the threat we might be exposed to, they’re going to respond in a better manner,” McCauley said.

Also by bringing the sheriff’s department in, the county will have more command and control over the actions of the department and its individuals than it would over a private security company, he said.

“We have a private security firm, and we have our chief civil deputy on the third floor, which has led to some difficulty with coordination and communication keeping contract staff informed, McCauley said, adding that this “has occasionally led to PPC going their own way on issues to the chagrin of our chief civil deputy.”

The commissioners all were in favor of a change to in-house security and said they could see it enhancing communication between not only departments but also between the county and the public.

“A lot of first interactions with county government have been through that security group and we had, had some issues with the message board and messages in general that do not represent the county, and that’s just what happens when you have an independent body,” Commissioner Kate Dean said.

“It just seems like we have degraded the experience of dealing with the county in the current system that we have and this could be an improvement,” Dean said.

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Reporter Ken Park can be reached at [email protected].

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