JANESVILLE

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.

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