The Cop Column
January 2008
Sgt. Rick Hord
Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office

What’s New at the Courthouse Annex?

            If you have visited the Okaloosa County Courthouse Annex lately, you may have been one of the many citizens asking “what’s going on?’

            Designers were thinking in terms of convenience, not security, when the Annex was built in Shalimar more than 30 years ago. Park anywhere, and you’d be near one of the seven wide-open entrances to a shopping-center type complex with open breezeways.

            As of December 17, 2007, however, all public entry to the Courthouse Annex is through one entry, where security officers check people, purses, and packages with a metal detector and x-ray.  

            Here are some of the questions we’ve heard since the change:

1-Was there an incident that prompted this change?

Yes, several, at courthouses across the country. Fortunately, none of them were at this facility. 

2-Is this related to 9/11?

No. In case after case across the nation, what has happened at courthouse facilities is not pre-planned terrorist attacks, but ordinary citizens who just snap under stress… and just happen to have a pocketknife or other available weapon on them at the moment.

3-Why is this being done now?

It should have been done long ago. Most courthouses have had controlled single-point entry for years. First-time visitors to either of Okaloosa County’s two courthouse venues had often expressed astonishment:. “Somebody’s going to get killed here,” they would say. Improvements came first at Crestview. Single point entry with screening has been used with success at the Okaloosa County Courthouse in Crestview since March 1, 2007. The Annex in Shalimar posed more complex challenges, requiring another nine months to complete the project.

4-Do I have to leave the same way I entered?

No. You enter via a checkpoint on the side of Annex that faces Regions Bank, but you may exit at either that location or any of three other one-way turnstiles. 

5-What should I do with my pocketknife?

Leave it in your vehicle. The same goes for sharp nail files, box cutters, screwdrivers, and anything else that might be considered a potential weapon. In fact, the fewer items you bring with you, the faster the process goes. 

6-Can you hold my pocketknife for me while I go in to pay a traffic ticket?

Sorry, but if we take your pocketknife, screwdriver, or other prohibited item, we can’t return it.  That’s what happens when the X-ray machine finds the sharp nail file you forgot was in your purse. If you remember to remove the item before it goes through the X-ray or metal detector, you’ll have a chance to return to your car and store it.  

7-Can I bring my drink in with me?

Yes. While the process at the Courthouse may resemble an airport security check, it’s not quite the same. There’s no need to pour out drinks or routinely remove shoes. 

            So far, the process appears to be going smoothly. Complaints are few, and with the exception of one busy hour on a day when the X-ray machine was out of service, delays have been minimal.