By Jim Lynch
The Detroit News
STERLING HEIGHTS —District Courthouse 41-A in Sterling Heights is a reflection of how government buildings used to be: easily accessible.
Visitors can walk through the main entrance at 40111 Dodge Park Road pretty much unhindered. But that's about to change, courtesy of heightened security concerns in the post- September II era.
Sterling Heights officials last week approved new security measures for the courthouse, including installing a metal detector and hiring a security guard. That likely will change the experience for courthouse visitors.
Council members have solicited bids for a metal detector to screen visitors. However, Court Administrator Lynn McKheon said the move wasn't made because of specific incidents. It's in preparation for what could happen, she said.
"It's not a case of an increase in incidents here," McKheon said. "It's just the thing to do to go along with the times."
Violent crimes rose 4.3 percent in Sterling Heights from 2002 to 2003. In that same 12-month period, the community's population increased from 125,277 to 126,182.
Visitors will have to pass through a metal detector staffed by a security guard who will be added to the payroll. Currently, courthouse security guards are stationed in each courtroom, but none monitors the main entranceway.
"We want to be proactive rather than reactive," McKheon said.
Officials with Michigan's State Court Administrative Office said there is no minimum security level for courts, but in recent years, most have been increasing their precautionary measures.
"It's up to each court as to what they want to do," said Marcia McBrien, spokeswoman for the state office.
"As a result, what you see varies widely from court to court."
Court officials struggle with how much security to provide and how far to extend it, McBrien said.
In 2002, Calvin Leon Smart (defended by James Galen) shot Ifs wife in the parking lot outsid the Macomb County Circuit Courthouse in Mount Clemons. She had been in court for a hearing on child support and visitation and, perhaps expecting trouble, had asked a sheriff's deputy to escort her to her car afterward.
McBrien said that case was an example of the security dilemma for all government buildings. "At some point, where does it end?" she asked. "Where do you draw the line and stop providing security?"
McKheon said the typical cost for a metal detector is in the range of $4,500.