The sheriff’s department would manage security at the Luzerne County Courthouse and all other county government buildings under a proposal coming before the county council.
“It is prudent for the sheriff to oversee the first line of defense at county buildings,” said the administration’s agenda submission for Tuesday’s council meeting.
Sheriff deputies currently provide security inside courtrooms, while security guards man the entrances to county buildings.
Prior county commissioners had discussed combining the two departments but never followed through.
The county’s January 2012 switch to a customized home rule government complicated matters by placing the departments in two different divisions — the sheriff under judicial services and records and security in operational services.
The new proposal would move security into judicial services under the supervision of the sheriff and ultimately the judicial services and records division head. Judicial services includes the civil and criminal court records offices, deeds, wills and marriage licenses.
The administration says the home rule charter allows such a division alteration.
The supervision change will improve security at all Luzerne County buildings by imposing a higher level of security standards and training, the proposal said.
Numerous counties across the state have implemented similar transitions placing all security under the sheriff’s department, it said.
County sheriff deputies carry guns and already are called to assist and “take whatever action is necessary” to handle incidents that arise at all county security posts, the proposal said.
Brian Szumski, who was appointed county sheriff the end of 2013, said sheriff deputies undergo more extensive and frequent training and can share some of the latest protocol and techniques with security guards.
“This is for the betterment of the county,” Szumski said.
Commissioners had announced plans in August 2011 to start training security guards to carry guns, but that plan was never implemented.
Szumski said he can’t say if the gun plan will be revived or other security changes that may occur if the proposal is accepted by council because he’d need time to complete an assessment.
The county’s 2016 budget funds 14 security guards, with most of their compensation ranging from $24,600 to $25,500. The 33 sheriff deputies receive $26,000 to $41,258 annually, according to the county’s position budget.
A security director position was eliminated several years ago, and security guards now report to the operational division head who also oversees engineering, roads and bridges, planning and zoning, 911, emergency management and buildings and grounds.
Representatives of several county branches, including the court, started meeting last year to discuss security enhancements, which prompted new protocol in August 2015 requiring all non-employee visitors to pass through metal detectors at county buildings that house courtrooms.