New judicial center offers improved security
Moving from a crowded courthouse in downtown St. Augustine, Fla., to a new judicial center provided an opportunity for St. Johns County to improve its security and avoid key control problems as well.
The former building housed many related functions, including offices for the clerk of courts, state’s attorney, tax collector, property appraiser and supervisor of elections. Not only was the facility crowded, with scheduling difficulties and back logs – but security consisted mainly of a duress alarm system and a bailiff for each judge. Police officers escorted 30 to 40 handcuffed and manacled prisoners through public hallways each day.
The new judicial center, an 82,000-square-foot building, was completed in June 1994. The project also included a 21,000-square-foot addition to a former administration building located across a courtyard.
Now, the facility houses all the operations that were located in the old courthouse, but with more space and better organization. Instead of sharing courtrooms, the judges have five full-sized courtrooms with attendant judges’ chambers and a large, formal hearing room. Four cells are provided for short-term holding of prisoners, who are brought to the facility through a sallyport to avoid public contact.
For security, the county installed an access control system, manufactured by Von Duprin, Indianapolis, at the judicial center. The system’s card readers are located at entrances and at doors leading from one area to another, with more than 36 readers being used.
“We use the readers to allow employees to come and go without having to go through the guard station and without having to issue an overabundance of keys,” Building Manager Wayne Pacetti says. Where exit devices are used, the system’s card readers activate electric latch retraction. Doors with lever trim are equipped with electric strikes instead.
Pacetti controls the readers through a PC-based system with some two dozen access levels, some of which are limited in time, while others allow 24-hour access, depending on the cardholder’s position and job requirements. “I created a time-zone control for five or six entry points around the outside of the building, where any employee with a badge can enter between 6:45 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. by just passing a card through the reader,” Pacetti says. “Before or after those times, it requires a card and a PIN. Once they get past the outside checkpoint, there’s a second reader that allows entry with only the card.”
Some cards, such as those issued to a contractor or an attorney working on a special project, expire after a certain time period. Others may allow access only to certain areas or through certain doors as required. The system provides a high degree of flexibility in setting up time zone controls.
The computer stores records of access attempts around the clock, which provides a valuable record for monitoring building security. The system is set to retain the entry records for two months and then erase them to avoid filling the hard drive. Public entrances are staffed by guards during operating hours, and about 20 cameras watch other locations. A split-screen monitor and zoom controls allow more detailed surveillance of remote areas.