Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

New security measures at Hillsborough courthouse take regulars by surprise

Lines form in front of the George E. Edgecomb Courthouse in downtown Tampa as visitors work their way through security checkpoints to get inside the building.


Lines form in front of the George E. Edgecomb Courthouse in downtown Tampa as visitors work their way through security checkpoints to get inside the building.

TAMPA — There's a new boss at the courthouse, and he isn't keen on silverware.

This week marked the Hillsborough sheriff's takeover of security operations at the downtown courthouse and other county buildings, an effort by the county to increase efficiency and reduce costs.

The law enforcement agency wasted no time enforcing existing safety procedures that hadn't always been followed by the county's guards. Some courthouse employees grumbled that they weren't forewarned about the crackdown.

By Thursday, court and clerk administrators had sent out e-mails explaining the new way of life.

That was too late for at least one clerk of court worker, who earlier in the week watched a security guard throw away the metal knife and fork she packed in her lunch. Metal kitchen utensils are no longer allowed.

Such measures might seem like overkill, but sheriff's Col. Jim Previtera doesn't think so.

"This is all about enhancing security there," he said. "We're doing this for their safety."

Court officials agreed.

"Yes, it's going to be a lot tighter," court administrator Mike Bridenback said. "We'd rather err on the side of surprising someone than continuing to be lax."

Commissioners voted last month to give the Sheriff's Office control of security at county buildings after learning the move would save more than $300,000 and avoid proposed cuts to patrol hours.

The agreement includes the George E. Edgecomb Courthouse, courthouse annex, County Center and the Plant City courthouse, which were previously secured by unsworn officers who worked for the county.

In August, one of those workers realized too late that he let what appeared to be a pistol slip into the Edgecomb courthouse. It turned out to be a gun-shaped cigarette lighter. But sheriff's officials were openly upset that it took security more than two hours to alert them of the lapse.

Carl Harness, the county's public safety administrator, said that incident had nothing to do with handing the reigns over to the Sheriff's Office on Oct. 1.

"This was in discussion long before then," he said.

The Sheriff's Office expects the transition to take 120 days. Savings will come from privatizing screening services through a contract with Wackenhut Corp., Previtera said. Hernando County signed a contract with the same company in August.

He said more screeners will be added, bringing the total at each checkpoint to three. County security officers will be given the chance to apply for those jobs.

The Sheriff's Office also will assign 12 law enforcement deputies and 10 community service officers to the courthouse, in addition to the bailiffs who are already there.

Other changes are apparent.

Thursday morning, the Edgecomb courthouse lobby resembled an airport terminal. Visitors waited in newly constructed serpentine lines. They dumped their pockets into plastic tubs that glided through X-ray conveyor belts. Belts came off.

A guard confiscated a steak knife from one woman's purse. She said it belonged to her daughter.

"I forgot I had it," shrugged 69-year-old Elizabeth Welch.

By 8:25 a.m., the line for members of the public was 50 or 60 people deep. For the most part, things moved smoothly. It took five to 10 minutes to get through the security screening — a sharp difference from Monday, when some 3,400 people squeezed through the front doors in just 2 1/2 hours.

Lawyers juggled their case files and belts.

"I don't know why we're taking belts off," said attorney Antonio Arnao, pausing to rethread his. "They have metal detectors."

Later, Previtera had a ready answer for a reporter.

"All kinds of weapons can be hidden in belts," he said, suggesting a trip to a local flea market for proof.

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at or (813) 226-3337.

New security measures at Hillsborough courthouse take regulars by surprise 10/08/09 [Last modified: Thursday, October 8, 2009 10:57pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Can the Bad Boys Mowers Gasparilla Bowl thrive in competitive sports market?


    ST. PETERSBURG — It's a funky name: the Bad Boys Mowers Gasparilla Bowl. But the new sponsors for the former St. Petersburg Bowl might need more than an eye-catching name to create a thriving, profitable contest.

    NC State head coach Dave Doeren clutches the championship trophy after winning the Bitcoin Bowl at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg in 2014. Bowl organizers are changing the name of the game to the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl.

  2. Dirk Koetter says Bucs used team meeting to discuss social issues


    Four days before their preseason home opener against the Cleveland Browns, which had 12 players not stand for the national anthem prior to their last game, the Bucs used their team meeting to discuss social issues that might have led to that demonstration, coach Dirk Koetter said.

    "The main thing is we have to respect everybody's opinion," Dirk Koetter said, "because everybody is not going to agree." [AP photo]
  3. Rookie tight end Antony Auclair making case to stick with Bucs


    Don't let his modest preseason stats fool you: Antony Auclair, the undrafted rookie tight end from Canada is making a strong case to stick around on the Bucs' 53-man roster this season.

    Bucs tight end Antony Auclair (82) collides with a defender following a catch during training camp. [CHARLIE KAIJO   |   Times]
  4. Who is that 'Blacks for Trump' guy standing behind the president at his Phoenix rally


    At a number of political rallies over the last two years, a character calling himself "Michael the Black Man" has appeared in the crowd directly behind Donald Trump, impossible to miss and possibly planted.

    Michael the Black Man, variously known as Michael Symonette, Maurice Woodside and Mikael Israel, holds up a sign as President Donald Trump speaks to a crowd at the Phoenix Convention Center during a rally on Tuesday in Phoenix, Arizona.  [Ralph Freso | Getty Images]
  5. Off-duty Manatee County deputy saves couple from burning car

    Public Safety

    MANATEE COUNTY — Neil and Claudia Cook are lucky to be alive after an off-duty deputy spotted them trapped in their smoking car and rescued them just before it became engulfed in flames on …

    Neil and Claudia Cook were trapped in their smoking car on Sunday when an off-duty deputy kicked out the window, rescuing them just before the car became engulfed in flames. [Courtesy of Manatee County Sheriff's Office]