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Hennepin County to beef up courthouse security measures

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Hennepin County Government Center
People wait to go through the security screening checkpoint at the Hennepin County Government Center. This is the entrance for courtroom visitors to access elevators that lead to courtrooms. The government center contains another identical station that leads to another part of the building.
MPR Photo/Brandt Williams

Hennepin County commissioners voted Tuesday to add temporary weapons screening stations at three suburban court facilities, and to study the implication of closing the county's courthouse in Edina.

County officials have recommended closing the courthouse because it would cost too much to add security checkpoints to screen visitors for weapons. The board also voted to add temporary weapons screening in Edina and at two other suburban courthouses.

However, law enforcement officials from cities near the courthouse oppose the closure.

County board chair Mike Opat voted against the measure, and said the county should not add any further security measures until a security study is completed this spring. A decision on closing the courthouse will be put off until the fall. The results of the study are due Nov. 1.  

"We're going to immediately react in three courthouses and we're going to react and spend more than a half-a-million dollars and this is the beginning of what the future is going to be," Opat said. "The study is going to come back, it's not going to matter what the study is going to say, we're going to be weapons screening."

Supporters of the measure say they don't want to wait until a fatality to occur before adding weapons screening. 

The county added metal detectors and checkpoints at several downtown court buildings after a fatal shooting at the county Government Center in 2003.

Hennepin County Government Center
This is the entrance for courtroom visitors to access elevators that lead to courtrooms at the Hennepin County Government Center.
MPR Photo/Brandt Williams

Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek said the county should not wait to act. 

"I'm not here today," Stanek said, "to create fear or harm, or sound the alarm, but given the recent history of events both here in Minnesota and across our nation, I want to underscore the Sheriff's Office consistently held belief that weapons screening in all of our courthouses is needed."

Stanek said in the last half of 2011, deputies confiscated 3,400 weapons at Hennepin County courthouses that already have security screening.

The weapons vary from pocketknives to a gun. Since weapons screening began at the other courthouses, deputies have found nine handguns, Stanek said.