Houma LA Nov 14 2017 A private company has been contracted to provide security at the Terrebonne Parish Courthouse in Houma, parish officials said.
For several years the Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s Office posted deputies at the building’s Church Street entrance to inspect visitors but will no longer do so due to tight budget constraints, Sheriff Jerry Larpenter said.
“The Sheriff’s Office has been paying a lot for security,” Larpenter said. “Money is getting tight, and we need to look at ways to cut corners so we don’t lose jobs. So I just politely told them that if they don’t reimburse me, I’m pulling my guard, which I did. There’s no law that says I have to do it.”
Larpenter said he will continue providing courtroom security, however.
“I’m only mandated to supply one deputy per courtroom, which the sheriffs have been doing since the courthouse opened. I’ve been supplying more than one deputy in the courtrooms for years. Every time there’s a high-profile case like a murder trial, I send several deputies into the courtrooms.”
The Houma Police Department assumed courthouse security responsibilities on Nov. 1. However, Chief Dana Coleman said he couldn’t spare the manpower demanded for the job.
“Our department is very small compared to the Sheriff’s Office,” Coleman said. “The building is a parish building, and the parish has to provide security for it. But in order for HPD to complete that mission, we would have had to pull an extensive amount of personnel off the road. We didn’t think that was a good idea.”
With the blessing of Parish President Gordy Dove, the Police Department contracted Weiser Security Services to assist in the job, Coleman said.
Dove said Weiser Security costs about $182,000 a year but is still significantly cheaper than using police to provide all of the courthouse guard duty.
“The courthouse is owned by the Terrebonne Parish Consolidated Government, so by law it’s up to us to provide the security,” Dove said. “We’ll be using HPD officers along with private security at the doors. We’ll still have an HPD officer there. There will be two people at each door at all times.”
Meanwhile, judges in the individual courtrooms have the authority to dictate what is allowed inside the courtrooms, officials said. All items entering the building are searched and run through an X-ray scan. Visitors must also walk through a metal detector before being granted entrance.
The Courthouse Annex has five entrances, and the main courthouse has two.
Only the Church Street entrance of the annex, along with the West Main Street, or Courthouse Square, entrance to the main courthouse, remain open to the public.
In light of recent tragic events such as mass shootings, spending money for courthouse security is a necessary evil, Dove said.
“It needs to be done, and it should have been done a long time ago,” Dove said. “When I was first elected, there was no security at the courthouse. I installed the X-ray and metal detectors. In today’s times and all the radicals out there, you just can’t take a chance. People’s lives are at stake. We have to do everything we need to do to secure that building.”