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Berkeley Co. gets no money for security

March 19, 1998

By AMY WALLAUER

Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Two counties in West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle were snubbed this month when the West Virginia Security Board awarded nearly $1 million for county courthouse upgrades.

Berkeley County received nothing; Morgan County received $14,920 of the $120,000 it requested.

In his grant proposal, Berkeley County Sheriff Ronald Jones asked for $30,000 for hand-held detectors to be used outside the courtrooms, bullet-proof glass to shield the two judges and panic buttons inside courtrooms.

"The only (security) we have right now is the bailiff," Jones said.

Security upgrades will have to wait until next year, when the sheriff's department can apply for the grant again or include it in its budget proposal to the Berkeley County Commission for the 1999-2000 fiscal year.

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"There's no other choice," Jones said.

Across the state, county courts have been beefing up security in response to more felony cases. Berkeley County is no exception.

"Sometimes you have a lot of high-profile cases and you need law enforcement to protect the people there - the judges, the attorneys and the jurors," Jones said.

He said he was not aware of any security problems in Berkeley County's circuit courtrooms, but said there is always the threat.

A metal detector currently is positioned in front of Judge Thomas Steptoe's second-floor courtroom in the Berkeley County Courthouse.

Judge David Sanders' courtroom in the adjacent courthouse annex has no security measures.

Bailiffs use hand-held detectors to check for weapons during criminal proceedings for both courtrooms, but the detectors are old and need to be updated, said Capt. Curtis Keller.

Although Morgan County received some funding, it isn't nearly enough to cover the security upgrades the courts asked for, said County Administrator Bill Clark.

"I'm not totally disappointed," Clark said. "We received something and I'm assuming we can apply again. I'm not going to give up."

Morgan County hoped to use the grant money to build separate rooms for defense and prosecution witnesses.

"Right now, they kind of have to hang out in the hallway," said Clark, adding that the mingling could lead to potentially violent situations.

The county hasn't what to do with the nearly $15,000 in grant money, but Clark said it could be used for a duress system, similar to the panic buttons Berkeley County wanted to install.

Jefferson County Sheriff William Senseney didn't apply for grant money because the county is in the process of building a new magistrate court building, which should be completed late this year.

"As we are doing that, we'll be applying to the state board for security upgrades," Senseney said. "We knew we would be leaving the old building anyway, so there's no point in throwing money away."

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