PARIS — County commissioners are contemplating boosting security at the Oxford County courthouse after employees said they felt vulnerable in the building.
Register of Probate Jennifer Dilworth told commissioners at their meeting Tuesday that the absence of security personnel when probate court is in session is of particular concern.
The court, held two or three times a month, often deals with custody and estate cases and emotions run high, Dilworth said. Situations have gotten out of hand in the past and there are no measures in place to prevent a violent incident.
"We have no security presence in our courtroom at all," she said. "It's a little frightening."
Even trying to schedule potentially difficult or emotional cases together so local law enforcement could provide security is difficult because it's never certain that people will show up for hearings on time or at all, Dilworth said.
Capt. Edward Quinn, the Oxford County Jail administrator, noted superior and district courts were just as unpredictable, which is the reason court marshals were there to provide security.
Dilworth said it was important to be proactive and boost the security presence. Even requiring name tags for employees could help the situation, she suggested.
Register of Deeds Patricia Shearman said the security worries at the probate court were one aspect of the building's general vulnerability. She said the county should think about only having one entrance to the building and implementing security screening for firearms. She suggested commissioners look into what other counties have done to address security concerns.
Making the changes described by Dilworth and others to improve the security situation, even just for probate court, will require devoting financial resources, County Administrator Scott Cole noted.
Oxford County Regional Communications Center Director James Miclon said he would advise dispatchers when the probate court is in session so emergency responders would know where in the building to go if something happened.
The county has reserve officers it could make available for security detail for probate court days, Quinn said, but there is no way to fund their hourly pay.
Commission Chairman David Duguay suggested Dilworth could look into increasing fees at the probate office to help pay for a reserve officer.
In an interview in her office following the meeting, Dilworth said the attention that recent mass shootings have received has increased her concern about security at the probate court.
"You don't want to live in a paranoid state, but I'd rather be proactive than be cleaning up a mess saying 'we should have done this, we should have done that,'" Dilworth said.