Security guards who screen Rock County Courthouse visitors could start carrying guns under a proposal from a private security company.
Global Security Services, the company that supplies the courthouse’s security guards, has recommended arming its personnel to enhance their ability to protect the public.
The proposal prompted considerable discussion at the county’s general services committee meeting Tuesday.
Opinion among committee members and county staff was split, with some fearing that more guns could be dangerous. The committee did not act on the proposal, but it might at its meeting Feb. 19.
The full county board also must approve it.
The Rock County Sheriff’s Office supports arming courthouse security guards, according to a Jan. 30 memo. The sheriff’s office would prefer using armed deputies, but that would be too expensive, Rock County Facilities Management Director Brent Sutherland wrote in the memo.
Contracting armed deputies for courthouse security would cost the sheriff’s office $176,772 this year, according to the memo.
By contrast, armed security officers with Global Security Services would add $13,000 to the county’s existing contract with the Iowa-based company, bringing the total to $85,570.
After reviewing the company’s policies—including its use-of-force procedures—the sheriff’s office is comfortable with Global Security Services, according to the memo. A company representative said Tuesday the company will adopt procedures that are consistent with sheriff’s office.
Rock County Administrator Josh Smith raised concerns about the proposal.
Smith said arming guards could negatively affect some courthouse visitors, including those from disadvantaged populations, according to the memo. He pointed to pushback against the city of Janesville’s idea to use the downtown police station as a polling location in 2018.
Smith did not attend Tuesday’s meeting, but Corporation Counsel Richard Greenlee said Smith had mixed feelings about the proposal.
Liability would increase with more guns, he said, and he noted that “symbols are important” when arming guards in a government building.
“An open courthouse in which the public is encouraged to participate in the seat of government, and not increased barriers to access to justice, is important,” Greenlee said. “And so is security, and so is ensuring public safety.”
Brad Utter, a Global Security Services representative, said arming guards is another tool that could prevent mayhem and stop people “hell-bent on doing harm.”
“Unfortunately, there are wolves out there. And you need a sheepdog,” he said.
Utter cited the U.S. Capitol and other government buildings that have armed security guards. He said the company’s guards will undergo additional firearms training if the county approves the proposal.
A majority of judges expressed support for arming guards, according to the memo. In January, most members of the Rock County Public Safety and Justice Committee also signaled their support.
In his memo, Sutherland said several counties do not use armed guards in their courthouses, including Walworth, Brown, Kenosha and La Crosse counties.
Sutherland, who supports arming guards, said he will draft a resolution green-lighting the proposal in case the committee approves it Feb. 19. He said the contract price would increase to pay for additional training and wage increases.
The proposal comes after the county board approved $5.2 million in security upgrades at the courthouse in the 2019 budget. Those projects, currently under construction, include consolidating all entrances on the building’s west side, where all visitors will be screened before entering.
The future of Walworth County’s treatment courts is uncertain after District Attorney Zeke Wiedenfeld at a special meeting Tuesday questioned his office’s participation in the programs and its level of control over who enters them.
Wiedenfeld told other members of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee that his concerns are a matter of public safety. But his statements led other members of the committee to speak out in favor of the programs.
And while there were procedural challenges and debates about who gets into treatment courts, the human impact hangs over all of it.
In late 2016 and 2017, six people overdosed and died before entering drug treatment court after being made eligible for the program or after being denied entry and receiving different sentences, such as probation, said treatment court coordinator Katie Behl.
Meanwhile, there were open spots in the program that is grant-funded to fit 25 participants.
“It’s just… it’s tragic,” Behl said. “And it’s not to say it’s anyone’s fault … Some of my urgency to get people into programming right out the gate is because I’m the one who sees them. I’m the one who talks to them. I’m the one who listens to their story.”
“And two weeks later they die.”
Most questions from Tuesday’s meeting went to Wiedenfeld. Although treatment courts would not necessarily cease to exist without the participation of the district attorney’s office, some committee members, including Judge Phillip Koss, signaled they would not support programs without it.
Wiedenfeld said he is “concerned” with a treatment-court structure that does not give his office authority to limit who gets into the programs. He said he did not know if he wanted to be involved with a program where it’s up to the judges.
The judge who oversees drug court, Daniel Johnson, said “I don’t think it’s fair to essentially accuse the judges of willy-nilly sending people into these programs whenever we feel like it without a rhyme or a reason to it.”
Judge David Reddy, who is the project director for the county’s treatment courts, said only two of the 69 entries into drug court were against the recommendation of the DA’s office.
Wiedenfeld said it’s his philosophy to be proactive and address small problems before they’re big.
Wiedenfeld said he requested more detailed eligibility criteria for program entry.
He was more concerned with drug court instead of OWI court because the latter has more explicit rules as to who can and cannot enter the program (only third- and fourth-offense intoxicated driving offenders).
OWI court started in Walworth County in October 2011, and drug court in July 2014.
Without final say over program entry and clear criteria, Wiedenfeld said he was worried about safety.
There could be participants who don’t have a violent felony offense but have a history of domestic violence, he said. Or perhaps drug dealers could join the treatment setting and take advantage of potential buyers.
Behl responded by saying research shows violent offenders do better than nonviolent offenders in treatment courts. She said there’s no research, negative or positive, about drug dealers in such courts.
Reddy asked Sheriff Kurt Picknell and Elkhorn Police Chief Joel Christensen if they had safety concerns with treatment courts.
Christensen said they always must consider public safety. Picknell agreed that they will always be cautious.
On the topic of public safety, Clerk of Courts Kristina Secord said all but one relevant case from 2017 that did not go to drug court ended with probation. How would that be safer than treatment court?
Wiedenfeld said sentencing decisions are not always up to him. But in plea deals, he said, they consider when people go through intensive treatment on their own. For some, that’s better than drug court, he said.
But Reddy said length of time in treatment has a direct effect on outcome. A 30-day treatment program does not compare to the average for drug court, which is 86 weeks.
This is especially true for opiates and opioids, said Carlo Nevicosi, of the county’s Department of Health & Human Services.
“And that’s one of the founding things of treatment courts,” Behl, the coordinator and chair of the committee said. “Is that it holds individuals in participation in treatment longer than they would outside on their own, even more than probation.”
While he was incarcerated between 2005 and 2011, Ted Hawver spent time in solitary confinement. The treatment in the penal system, he said, is “not up to par” with what Walworth County’s treatment courts offer.
He graduated from OWI court and spoke during the public comment period at Tuesday’s meeting. He said he has been sober for about five years.
“Treatment court gave me an opportunity to change my life,” he said.
“I think it’s just common sense,” he continued. “Jail or treatment. Treatment: People can become productive members of the community again. You throw them in jail: The recidivism rate speaks for itself.”
Wiedenfeld said he and others on the committee support treatment. But he also said he thinks there should be stronger sentences on drug cases, and treatment is not an entitlement but rather an opportunity people should act on.
Walworth County Board Chairwoman Nancy Russell said “taxpayers are not gonna be happy” if the treatment courts go away.
“I think it would be a terrible thing if we stop doing this,” Russell said. “Because then we’re turning our back on a lot of people in Walworth County who really need this program.”
Behl said OWI court has saved $2.7 million after saving more than 41,000 days worth of jail supervision.
She provided other statistics from the National Drug Court Institute in June 2016:
Picknell said all those in attendance at the meeting showed the “desire” and “resolve” of the group to find a solution. Committee members said they planned to meet again to further discuss the subject.
“At the end of the day, all it takes is one person,” Behl said. “Treatment courts just need to save one life to make the program worth continuing.”
John Joseph Coffey
Josephine R. Link Lowman
William E. Murphy
Brian S. Palmquist
Diane Bramer Stearns
Eutimio H. Vasquez
Lorraine M. Welch
Facing a divided Congress for the first time, President Donald Trump on Tuesday called on Washington to reject “the politics of revenge, resistance and retribution.” He warned emboldened Democrats that “ridiculous partisan investigations” into his administration and businesses could hamper a surging American economy.
Trump’s appeals for bipartisanship in his State of the Union address clashed with the rancorous atmosphere he has helped cultivate in the nation’s capital—as well as the desire of most Democrats to block his agenda during his next two years in office. Their opposition was on vivid display as Democratic congresswomen in the audience formed a sea of white in a nod to early 20th-century suffragettes.
Trump spoke at a critical moment in his presidency, staring down a two-year stretch that will determine whether he is re-elected or leaves office in defeat. His speech sought to shore up Republican support that had eroded slightly during the recent government shutdown and previewed a fresh defense against Democrats as they ready a round of investigations into every aspect of his administration.
“If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation,” he declared. Lawmakers in the cavernous House chamber sat largely silent.
Looming over the president’s address was a fast-approaching Feb. 15 deadline to fund the government and avoid another shutdown. Democrats have refused to acquiesce to his demands for a border wall, and Republicans are increasingly unwilling to shut down the government to help him fulfill his signature campaign pledge. Nor does the GOP support the president’s plan to declare a national emergency if Congress won’t fund the wall.
Wary of publicly highlighting those intraparty divisions, Trump made no mention of an emergency declaration in his remarks. He did offer a lengthy defense of his call for a border wall, declaring: “I will build it.” But he delivered no ultimatums about what it would take for him to sign legislation to keep the government open.
“I am asking you to defend our very dangerous southern border out of love and devotion to our fellow citizens and to our country,” he said, painting a dark and foreboding picture of the risks posed to Americans by illegal immigration.
The 72-year-old Trump harkened back to moments of American greatness, celebrating the moon landing as astronaut Buzz Aldrin looked on from the audience and heralding the liberation of Europe from the Nazis. He led the House chamber in singing happy birthday to a Holocaust survivor sitting with first lady Melania Trump.
“Together, we represent the most extraordinary nation in all of history. What will we do with this moment? How will we be remembered?” Trump said.
The president ticked through a litany of issues with crossover appeal, including boosting infrastructure, lowering prescription drug costs and combating childhood cancer. But he also appealed to his political base, both with his harsh rhetoric on immigration and a call for Congress to pass legislation to prohibit the “late-term abortion of children.”
Trump devoted much of his speech to foreign policy, another area where Republicans have increasingly distanced themselves from the White House. He announced details of a second meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, outlining a Feb. 27-28 summit in Vietnam.
Trump and Kim’s first summit garnered only a vaguely worded commitment by the North to denuclearize. But the president said his outreach to Pyongyang had made the U.S. safer.
“If I had not been elected president of the United States, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea,” he said.
As he condemned political turmoil in Venezuela, Trump declared that “America will never be a socialist country”—a remark that might also have been targeted at high-profile Democrats who identify as socialists.
The president was surrounded by symbols of his emboldened political opposition. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was praised by Democrats for her hard-line negotiating during the shutdown, sat behind Trump as he spoke. And several senators running for president were also in the audience, including Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey.
Another Democratic star, Stacey Abrams, delivered the party’s response to Trump. Abrams narrowly lost her bid in November to become America’s first black female governor, and party leaders are aggressively recruiting her to run for U.S. Senate from Georgia.
Speaking from Atlanta, Abrams calls the shutdown a political stunt that “defied every tenet of fairness and abandoned not just our people, but our values.”
Trump’s address amounted to an opening argument for his re-election campaign. Polls show he has work to do, with his approval rating falling to just 34 percent after the shutdown, according to a recent survey conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
One bright spot for the president has been the economy, which has added jobs for 100 straight months.
“The only thing that can stop it,” he said, “are foolish wars, politics or ridiculous partisan investigations”—an apparent swipe at the special counsel investigation into ties between Russia and Trump’s 2016 campaign, as well as the upcoming congressional investigations.
The diverse Democratic caucus, which includes a bevy of women, sat silently for much of Trump’s speech. But they leapt to their feet when he noted there are “more women in the workforce than ever before.”
The increase is due to population growth—and not something Trump can credit to any of his policies.
The president also defended his decisions to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria and Afghanistan over the opposition from national security officials and many Republican lawmakers.
“Great nations do not fight endless wars,” he said, adding that the U.S. is working with allies to “destroy the remnants” of the Islamic State group and that he has “accelerated” efforts to reach a settlement in Afghanistan.
IS militants have lost territory since Trump’s surprise announcement in December that he was pulling U.S. forces out, but military officials warn the fighters could regroup within six months to a year of the Americans leaving. Several leading GOP lawmakers have sharply criticized his plans to withdraw from Syria, as well as from Afghanistan.
Trump’s guests for the speech included Alice Marie Johnson, a woman whose life sentence for drug offenses was commuted by the president, and Joshua Trump, a sixth-grade student from Wilmington, Delaware, who has been bullied over his last name. They sat with Melania Trump during the address.