Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pinellas County talking about tightening security at courthouse

Not long after she began working as the Pinellas County property appraiser, Pam Dubov was visited by an angry man carrying a large briefcase.

He sat in her office, on the second floor of the county's Clearwater courthouse, ranting and repeatedly dipping his hand into the case to fish around for papers and nobody knew what else. Dubov and two staff members in the room held their breath.

"All three of us were ready to come out of our chairs if we had to," she said.

She had no way of knowing if the man was armed. That may change in the future, now that the County Commission has reopened a years-long debate over whether to boost safety measures.

"We're talking about security," said County Administrator Bob LaSala, and that is all he would say about his closed-door meeting with county commissioners several weeks ago. Citing a state law that protects safety-planning discussions, county officials refused to say what proposals are on the table or what they might cost.

But it is no secret that metal detectors, which have been talked about for years, are in the discussion.

The high price of buying the equipment and staffing it has prevented the idea from becoming reality, as well as concern that it would lead to long lines and inconvenience for visitors, said Commissioner Susan Latvala.

The building at 315 Court St. in Clearwater has a metal detector on the fourth floor leading into the courtrooms, but there is no security barrier on the building's ground floor or at the entrance to the County Commission meeting room.

"We've had many discussions and every time there's a big incident we do this," Latvala said.

Two events in particular have made an impression: a 2008 shooting in the county courthouse in downtown St. Petersburg that injured one bailiff and left the shooter dead. And a similar incident in 2010, when a gunman — an ex-convict angered by his wife's firing — entered a School Board meeting in Panama City and shot at board members before fatally shooting himself.

More recently, some commission members have been spooked by what they perceive is an uptick in antigovernment sentiment. An armed sheriff's deputy is always in the room, but that's cold comfort when you are within spitting distance of an irate citizen.

Latvala said she and other commissioners recently received sympathy cards from a man who accused them of ignoring a 1996 term-limits vote that is the subject of a lawsuit. He called the commissioners worthless and demanded they resign, she said.

None of the commissioners or constitutional officers interviewed for this article said they are afraid to come to work. Clerk of Court Ken Burke said he has never felt threatened and that on a practical level, the building has so many entrances it would be next to impossible to secure.

"I've had agitated citizens and different things, but gosh, most people are reasonable," he said.

In Hillsborough County, visitors to a County Commission meeting must pass through a metal detector, and have their bags and purses screened. On July 24, this system caught a man carrying an unloaded handgun in his bag. He claimed to have forgotten about the weapon. Because he didn't have a concealed-weapons permit, he was arrested.

There was "no indication that he had any evil intentions," said Maj. Jim Livingston, who oversees the county's court complex for the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. "But, nonetheless, he shouldn't have been carrying it around anyway."

Like Pinellas, Pasco County has deputies watch over County Commission meetings, but doesn't use metal detectors, said Kevin Doll, a spokesman for the Sheriff's Office.

Dubov said in the past 10 years she has worked in the appraiser's office, there have been about half a dozen times when she felt threatened by a menacing phone call or an intoxicated citizen staggering into her office.

Oddly, some people become explosive only after talking at length about their property values, hurling insults at appraiser staff who know their names and where they live.

"It's not exactly the wisest thing," Dubov said.

Anna M. Phillips can be reached at or (727) 893-8779.

Pinellas County talking about tightening security at courthouse 08/19/12 [Last modified: Sunday, August 19, 2012 11:26pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Ousted to political Siberia by Corcoran, Kathleen Peters sets sights on Pinellas Commission

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — The perks of power in Tallahassee are a coveted chairmanship, a Capitol office in a prime location and a prominent seat on the House floor. Now Rep. Kathleen Peters has lost all three, but here's the twist: Her trip to "Siberia" might actually help her reach the next step on the Tampa Bay political …

    Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-South Pasadena, has been relegated to the back row in the State House chamber, moved to a fouth floor office and stripped of her job as chairwoman of a House subcommittee after a series of disagreements with House Speaker Richard Corcoran. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]
  2. What do kids need to stay away from deadly auto theft epidemic?

    Public Safety

    ST. PETERSBURG — More than a dozen black teenagers told U.S. Congressman Charlie Crist on Wednesday that children need stronger mentors and youth programs to steer clear of the auto theft epidemic plaguing Pinellas County.

    Congressman Charlie Crist (center) listens as Shenyah Ruth (right), a junior at Northeast High School, talks during Wednesday's youth roundtable meeting with community leaders and kids. They met to discuss the ongoing car theft epidemic among Pinellas youth and how law enforcement, elected officials, and community organizations can work together to put an end to this dangerous trend. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]
  3. Manhattan Casino choice causes political headache for Kriseman


    ST. PETERSBURG — Days before the mayoral primary, Mayor Rick Kriseman's decision to let a Floribbean restaurant open in Midtown's historic Manhattan Casino has caused political angst within the voting bloc he can least afford to lose: the black community.

    Last week Mayor Rick Kriseman chose a Floribbean restaurant concept to fill Midtown's historic Manhattan Casino. But that decision, made days before next week's mayoral primary, has turned into a political headache for the mayor. Many residents want to see the building's next tenant better reflect its cultural significance in the black community. [JAMES BORCHUCK   |   Times]
  4. Bucs talk social issues, protests at team meeting


    TAMPA — Each time Dirk Koetter walks through the door of his office at One Buc Place, he passes by the only jersey framed on his wall.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) wears custom cleats to represent Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE) as part of the NFL???‚??„?s "My Cause, My Cleats Campaign" before the start of a football game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, Calif., on Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016.
  5. UPS relocates express operations from St. Pete-Clearwater to TIA


    TAMPA — United Parcel Service Inc. is switching airports for its express air operations. Beginning in October, UPS will relocate from St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport to Tampa International Airport.

    Beginning in October, UPS will move from St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport to Tampa International Airport. [Associated Press file photo]