La Plata County is proposing to beef up its security.
As part of the draft 2020 budget, officials have called for four new security-guard positions to patrol county offices and facilities.
The need, officials say, is twofold:
For the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office, a new state law that takes effect Jan. 1, 2020, says people arrested must go in front of a judge within 48 hours, which is likely going to require the La Plata County Courthouse to be open on a weekend day, necessitating additional staff.And for La Plata County, officials say mass shootings across the country have prompted a national focus on increased safety measures.“It’s unfortunate … that people in gatherings are potential targets, but that is our world right now,” said county spokeswoman Megan Graham.
The plan is for the four new security guards, who would be armed, to randomly patrol county buildings, with a particular focus on departments where escalated situations sometimes occur, such as Human Services, the Treasurer’s Office and the Assessor’s Office, Graham said.
Guards would also have a presence at any large county gathering, such as county commissioner meetings.
“We feel strongly citizens and staff have a rightful expectation of safety when they come to county buildings,” Graham said.
Sheriff Sean Smith said the new hires would also help carry out the rules in Senate Bill 191, which requires anyone arrested to have a bond hearing within 48 hours. Smith said the guards could help transport people from the jail to the courthouse at a lower cost than certified deputies.
“We haven’t figured out exactly how we’re going to handle (SB 191),” he said. “But as of right now … we envision we will hold four hours of court on one day, either Saturday or Sunday.”
Currently, there are six security guards at the La Plata County Courthouse who have Colorado Peace Officer Standards and Training. The proposal in the budget would bring this team to 10 personnel, four of whom could be tapped to patrol county offices on a given day.
“It’s becoming more and more prevalent: People are concerned about making sure environments are safe,” Smith said. “This is our step towards that.”
Smith said these four new positions would be filled from the 10 staff members at the La Plata County Jail who are considered “civilian deputies” – people who are entry-level hires at the jail, typically with no previous corrections or law enforcement background.
Civilian deputies who qualify for the new security guard position will go through Colorado Peace Officer Standards and Training. On top of patrols, they would also be able to help with tasks such as taking inmates to the hospital and transports from the jail to the courthouse for hearings.
“These deputies in the jail have a lot of skill sets and are already known to us,” Smith said.
Smith said he thinks the program will also help retention, an issue at both the Sheriff’s Office and the Durango Police Department.
The four new positions would cost about $313,000, which includes benefits and necessary gear. Two vehicles that were going to be decommissioned would instead be used for the new hires, costing about $21,000 a year. Overtime and training costs are budgeted for about $20,000.
County commissioners are expected to adopt the budget Dec. 10. Commissioner Julie Westendorff said she supports the added security measures, which would benefit county staff and the public.
“Many other small communities have suffered violence, and I don’t want us to be one that sets itself up to be unprepared,” Westendorff said. “If this can help, I hope it’s a moderate, reasonable way to do that.”