Security guards at the Rock County Courthouse will remain unarmed for now.
The Rock County Board’s General Services Committee on Tuesday tabled a resolution to arm the guards, pausing discussions on the matter indefinitely.
Courthouse security guards are currently contracted through Global Security Services, an Iowa company. Tuesday’s resolution would have increased the cost of the county’s three-year contract with the company by $45,784.
For the most part, committee members said they have mixed feelings about the proposal and want to discuss it further. The resolution was tabled indefinitely, but it could be brought back to the committee for consideration in the future.
The resolution could be brought before the full county board after 20 days if five members initiate it. County board Chairman Russ Podzilni could place the resolution on the board’s agenda even if the committee doesn’t approve it.
The security guards screen visitors on the second floor of the courthouse. A new security screening station at the building’s main west-side entrance is now under construction.
Board member Robert Potter said he has a permit to carry a concealed weapon, but he remained reluctant to arm the guards because it’s “a touchy subject.”
Jeremy Zajac, the committee’s vice chairman, said he wants to do more research to make sure introducing weapons to the courthouse would foster a safer environment.
Brad Utter, a Global Security Services representative, pushed back. He said people likely wouldn’t have mixed feelings “if they were in Aurora, Illinois, at the warehouse factory where a gentleman after 15 years opened fire on the three people.”
Committee members withdrew their motion to discuss the item after Utter’s comments.
Utter later continued, saying last week’s shooting in Aurora that left six people dead is “exactly what we’re trying to prevent.”
“Basically, this board is saying, ‘We don’t care what all the industry experts say, all the professionals, all the studies say. We’re going to go with ‘no’ because we have mixed feelings,’” he said.
In a county survey of 82 courthouse staffers, 53 people said armed security guards would make them feel more secure. Twenty-nine said they would not feel more secure.
In the resolution, County Administrator Josh Smith wrote that arming contracted security guards at the screening station might increase the likelihood of a violent incident because many people use the building in “less-than-ideal circumstances.”
He also worried about the impact of armed guards on vulnerable residents.
“I am particularly concerned that disadvantaged populations may negatively perceive the increase in firearms at the front entrance in a way that could inhibit residents’ willingness to access needed services,” Smith wrote.
Most of Rock County’s judges have expressed support for arming guards, according to a memo from Brent Sutherland, county facilities management director.
Most members of the county’s public safety and justice committee also supported arming guards in January.
Sutherland wrote that contracting for security with the Rock County Sheriff’s Office would be too expensive, costing the county $176,772 this year. But he wrote that the sheriff’s office supports having armed guards and has approved Global Security Service’s use-of-force policy.
Two residents opposed the proposal during public comment at the county board’s Feb. 14 meeting.
After Tuesday’s meeting, Utter expressed dismay with the committee.
“I’m absolutely shocked,” he said.