Crawford County PA Aug 2 2017 A private firm began handling security screenings Monday at the Crawford County Courthouse while a court order, effective Sept. 5, puts the Crawford County Sheriff's Office in charge of security at both the courthouse building and new county judicial center in downtown Meadville.
Point Security began handling entrance screenings at the courthouse Monday morning.
Crawford County commissioners said they were considering using private security for the present courthouse building as a way to save on costs with the county’s court system moving into the new judicial center next door. The county courts system is to be fully integrated and operational into the new judicial center by Aug. 7.
Under Pennsylvania law, a county sheriff is required to provide security for county courts.
At their work session July 19, commissioners said they were looking at using a private security firm for the current courthouse versus hiring some part-time deputies to provide security at the courthouse building after the courts and related offices move.
But, an order issued by President Judge Anthony Vardaro of Crawford County Court of Common Pleas said, "The Court has determined that for the safety of persons working in and conducting business in court offices located in the Crawford County Judicial Center and the Crawford County Courthouse, the Sheriff of Crawford County and his deputy sheriffs are best qualified and trained to provide protection within the facilities. Therefore it is hereby ordered and decreed that the provisions of 18 pa.c.s.a. 913 shall be enforced by the Crawford County Sheriff."
The order won't be effective until 30 days after it's published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin and is scheduled for publication Saturday. That makes the order effective Sept. 5 due to the Labor Day holiday.
Since Sheriff Nick Hoke didn't have additional deputies to cover both buildings effective Monday, Point Security was brought in to provide security at the courthouse building until the situation is resolved, according to Commissioners John Amato and Chris Soff. Commissioner Francis Weiderspahn Jr. was out of the office Monday.
"We thought that it was important enough for the safety and security of employees as well as citizens entering the building that we have some type of security presence at the front door," Soff said Monday.
The situation is being reviewed because the present courthouse building’s role will be more of an administrative center for the county.
A contract is being drafted and expected to be ratified later this month by commissioners.
A July 5, 2012, resolution approved by the then-Crawford County Board of Commissioners put the Sheriff's Office in charge of courthouse security. Soff and Amato weren't on the board at the time.
Commissioners said the county expects to spend more than $100,000 annually in personnel costs on security for the present courthouse building no matter whether sheriff's deputies or private security is chosen. Commissioners anticipate saving about $20,000 to $30,000 with a private security firm because the county would not have to have to equip, train, pay health care, worker’s compensation and pension costs for additional county employees.
"We're trying to do it in a way that's fair to the people we serve — the taxpayers," Amato said of building security.
"An option we said that's not an option is locking the front door and not allowing anybody in or having no security," Soff said of why Point Security was brought in Monday.
Point Security, based in Cranberry Township, has won multiple recognition awards from veterans organizations for its efforts to recruit and hire military veterans and retired police, Soff and Amato said.