Article published July 5, 2003
Courthouse security firm gets reprieveBy TOM LANGHORNE, Staff Writer
A recently fired security firm has received a temporary reprieve from the termination of its contract to protect the Spartanburg County courthouse.
County Council voted unanimously in May to terminate the $90,302 annual contract binding the county to Boiling Springs-based Carolina Security Service Inc. effective June 30, the last day of fiscal year 2002-03.
But Carolina Security's guards will stay on the job until July 25, said Clerk of Court Marc Kitchens, because he and Jail Director Larry Powers did not finalize a new courthouse security plan until after the June 1 deadline to give the private company its required 30-day termination notice.
At Kitchens' urging, County Council agreed to spend about $105,000 in fiscal year 2003-04 --some $15,000 more than the Carolina Security contract -- to place jail officers at the courthouse's security checkpoints. An extra $22,500 will be spent on a one-time-only basis for a fingerprint
scan system and surveillance security camera system for employee doors and hallways, and re-keying of all external door locks.
But Kitchens said he and Powers were unable to meet quickly because Powers was tending to an illness in his family.
"We wanted to confer and make sure everything was set and ready to go before issuing the 30-day termination notice," the court clerk explained. "Basically, we needed to review the new plan a final time and make sure we were all on the same sheet of music."
Metal detectors in the courthouse belong to the county, Kitchens said, but not all of the newly authorized security equipment is available.
"The surveillance camera system and the fingerprint scan are still in the bidding process," he said. "I have no idea when it will be here."
Kitchens had made termination of the contract with Carolina Security a priority since taking office Jan. 28. He has complained that the firm's guards often leave courthouse doors unlocked after 5 p.m., making the building vulnerable to criminals, and often allow people to walk through checkpoints unchecked.
Days before Kitchens took office, an elderly Carolina Security guard lost her gun after having last seen it in a restroom.
Shortly after Council Council canceled the county's contract with the company, Kitchens publicly expressed suspicion that its security guards were deliberately neglecting their duties.
In a faxed letter to Carolina Security President Nicholas Parris, Kitchens said officers had been leaving their posts without locking doors or setting alarms since the contract was terminated.
Kitchens warned in the letter that he would pursue legal remedies if anyone were injured or property damaged, stolen or destroyed "because of your officers' failure to do their job" - but the dispute was smoothed over days later.
The Sheriff's Office already provides 10 full-time deputies and a supervisor for courtroom security, as required by law. The jail provides five detention officers to transport inmates for court appearances and for security for Magistrate Court courtrooms.
The new security plan also calls for reduction of the courthouse's public entrances from five to four, with access to the three other entrances restricted to the building's 100 to 125 employees. Photo identification cards will be issued to attorneys.