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What’s in your pockets?

It is probably one of the busiest buildings in Lawrence County.

People who want to pay their property taxes, visit the recorder’s office or change a car title at the Lawrence County Courthouse must first pass through a metal detector and the polite perusal of courthouse constables.

Just how busy is the Lawrence County Courthouse? Figures were released last week.

The numbers

In 2009, 206,158 people walked through one of the two entrances to the courthouse. Although the handicapped-accessible Fifth Street side was more often used, the difference was slight.

The Fifth Street entrance had 111,393 visitors; the Fourth Street side had 94,765 visitors.

Overall, the number of courthouse visitors decreased from 2008 to 2009.

In 2008, 214,576 visitors came through the courthouse doors. Why the drop off? One reason may be that fewer people are actually coming to the courthouse to pay their taxes.

“I don’t know for certain but I think it may be because people are going to the banks to pay their taxes or are mailing them in,” Constable Ralph Peters said.

Since he took office eight years ago, Treasurer Stephen Dale Burcham has made agreements with several area banks to collect tax payments and forward the payments to the treasurer’s office, thus eliminating the need for some property owners to make that trip to the courthouse.

Some of those 200,000-plus visitors came in on their own but did not leave without an escort: Constables arrested 95 people for various reasons.

“Some people had outstanding warrants and others were arrested for probation violations,” Peters said. “Others came into court, pleaded guilty and were taken to jail.”

The constables transported 830 inmates to and from jail and the courtrooms last year for trials, pretrial conferences and arraignments, usually but not always on Wednesdays.

In keeping with the rise in the county’s crime rate, that figure is an increase over the 2008 figure of 703 inmates transported from jail to the courtroom and back.

The constables averaged seven to ten monthly prisoner/family visits.

If a person is found guilty of a crime, it is commonplace for the convicted felon to request a furlough, a brief release from jail, to settle personal affairs or say goodbye to their family or make living arrangements for underage children.

But judges are more frequently opting for constable-supervised visits with family or attorneys that take place in the courtroom.

These visits allow the prisoner to conduct necessary affairs without being released from jail, thus risking the chance the prisoner won’t return.

Costs

Lawrence County’s courthouse security system was implemented in the mid 1990s.

The county will spend $164,175 on courthouse security this year for supplies, salaries and other essentials for three full-time and four-part-time constables. The cost of providing security has decreased over the last four to five years. Just as other budgets have been slashed, so, too has the constable staff.

Like other offices, general fund spending for security in 2010 will be roughly 10 percent less than in 2009. Some full-time staffers have been replaced by part-timers in an effort to save money.

Screwdriver, anyone?

People walking into the courthouse must walk through metal detectors meant to reduce the risk of someone bringing in weapons.

By far the most common contraband item collected from visitors is the pocket knife. Last year 2,199 knives were collected at the door. That is more than all the other contraband items combined.

Leathermans, those multi-tools carried in a leather case, were confiscated from 69 people. Mace was the third most-frequently confiscated item — 52 cans were collected at the door in 2009.

Other items on the no-no list that were prevented from going past the courthouse entrances: box cutters, scissors, screwdrivers, stun guns, razors and even ammunition.

Fewer people are bringing contraband items to the courthouse these days.

The number of knives, cans of mace and other items confiscated in 2009 was fewer than what was confiscated in 2008 and in most cases is substantially less than in previous years.

In 2008, for instance, 3,894 pocket knives were collected at the courthouse doors, along with 31 pairs of scissors (compare that to four pairs confiscated last year).

No guns were confiscated in 2009 but guns were confiscated in previous years. The last time a gun was confiscated was in 2001.

Items confiscated at the door are returned once the person is ready to exit — unless the item they brought in is illegal and that does happen, Peters said.

“We’ve had them bring in marijuana pipes, baggies with marijuana. Those people are charged through Ironton Municipal Court,” Peters said.