Known as Deputy Khone, Viengkhone Nouansacksy is one of several armed deputies assigned to the Rock County Courthouse.
He spends his entire shift at the building. During a typical day, Nouansacksy might monitor the courthouse’s nearly 200 security cameras, mediate contentious meetings and check in on the offices.
“My own philosophy in working here is to preserve the peace,” he said. “Preserve the peace for the employees and the judges and the citizens.”
Conversations about courthouse security have swirled since the Rock County Board’s General Services Committee tabled a resolution last week that would have armed security guards at the building’s second-floor screening station.
The guards are contracted through Iowa-based Global Security Services. While they will remain unarmed for now, sheriff’s deputies, such as Nouansacksy, and some bailiffs in the building are armed.
Rock County Sheriff Troy Knudson said the growing conversation about courthouse security is crucial, and he lauded the county board.
“I absolutely applaud our administrator, Josh Smith, and our county board members,” Knudson said. “We’ve decided that, because of the threats that exist in our society now, we need to improve our security at our courthouse in a proactive manner.
“I think there’s a bigger discussion that needs to take place, and I think it’s a critical discussion.”
Knudson said courthouse security is split into three categories: the security screening station with private guards, Rock County Sheriff’s Office deputies and courtroom bailiffs.
The Rock County Sheriff’s Office operates separately from the third-party guards and bailiffs. Knudson said the amount of deputies at the courthouse varies on a given day.
Some deputies are specifically assigned to perform patrol-style functions at the building, such as escorting inmates to a courtroom. Knudson said the deputies would be able to respond to an emergency.
The courthouse deputies undergo normal deputy training, which includes active shooter response. Knudson said the courthouse unit was trained together last year particularly to address emergency situations at the courthouse.
Along with sheriff’s deputies, some courthouse bailiffs are armed. Knudson said each bailiff works for an individual judge and provides courtroom security. He said bailiffs do not work for the sheriff’s office, but they could potentially respond to an imminent threat.
Knudson said communication and coordinating responses between the three separate security units can be tricky.
“I think we can all sort of envision a large incident that occurs, and by having each of those different levels of security reporting to a different person, (it) may add some inefficiencies to the response,” Knudson said.
“If all those layers of security personnel were operating under one entity, you could ensure the training was the same.”
Knudson said the $5.2 million security overhaul at the courthouse approved by the county board last year will prep the building for a large-scale security threat. The renovations include a new security screening station at the building’s main west-side entrance, which is currently under construction.
Knudson said security guards would be at disadvantage if a threat were to enter the building. He supports arming them, he said, and would feel more comfortable if sheriff’s deputies managed the station.
Similarly, he said looping all security branches under the sheriff’s office wing is a worthwhile discussion. But he understands concerns about being “fiscally conservative,” he said, and realizes consolidating security could be expensive.
The sheriff’s office likely would hire deputies to work at the security screening station. A memo to the general services committee estimated hiring sheriff’s deputies would cost about $176,000 this year. Knudson said sheriff’s office financial staff will estimate the costs again.
Rock County Administrator Josh Smith said officials have discussed hiring sheriff’s office personnel for the security station for years. He said there would be a greater comfort level with deputies but cost is the primary concern.
Knudson echoed Smith, saying some in the community have said they are more at ease with sheriff’s deputies at the station.
“If these concerns are out there, that’s something that’s going to need to be addressed and studied. We need to get everybody’s input and then make a decision,” Knudson said. “What are we really trying to accomplish with these layers of security, and how can we best do it, and what is the cost? Does the cost outweigh the concerns, or do the concerns outweigh the cost? That’s the decision that has to be made.”