Sheriff's Association trains area bailiffs

COVINGTON - Bailiffs at the Newton County Judicial Center are undergoing a two-day security training course by the National Sheriff's Association.

Representatives from the association, out of Washington, D.C., toured the judicial center Thursday to assess current security measures, according to Sheriff Joe Nichols.

"When somebody comes in new, they may see something we haven't," Nichols said. "I think we have a very secure courthouse, but it never hurts to have someone else take a third or fourth look."

The U.S. Marshal's Service inspected the courthouse shortly after it was built, Nichols said

"They had very few suggestions at that time. They thought we had a very secure courthouse," he said.

Bailiffs in Newton and Rockdale counties, along with several other counties, including Putnam and Baldwin, will undergo a 16-hour training course starting today at the Newton County Sheriff's Office, Nichols said.

Nichols and Rockdale County Sheriff Jeff Wigington are hosting the National Sheriff's Association reps. Nichols said the visit has been planned for some time and was not prompted by any security breaches.

The representatives will review security measures currently in place and make recommendations on how they might be improved, he said.

"I'd rather have somebody looking over my shoulder. I'm very concerned with security in the courthouse and very much concerned with security in the schools," he said.

Following the 2006 killing spree by escaped inmate Brian Nichols in the Fulton County Courthouse, "We did change some of our policies, strengthen some of our policies," Nichols said, but added that no major changes were implemented.

Security will be upgraded on all levels when a planned courthouse expansion comes to fruition, Nichols said.

Plans for providing secured parking for judges, along with the District Attorney's Office and other judicial center personnel, is the first step toward that security upgrade, according to Superior Court Judge Samuel D. Ozburn.

There are no formal plans for expansion as of yet, Ozburn said, but architects with Lyman, Davidson Dooley Inc., who designed the Newton County Administration Building, have drawn up a draft plan.

"An eventual expansion is inevitable because of the increase in the number of cases that are being filed, both civil and criminal," Ozburn said.

Larger courtrooms and holding areas for prisoners are needed, he said.

"We're working like gangbusters to keep cases from getting backed up," he said.

Legislation is pending to split the Alcovy Judicial Circuit, which currently includes Newton and Walton counties. Ozburn said he expects the split to be approved during this year's General Assembly. If not, he expects a fifth judge will be appointed to the circuit, he said.

Currently, the four Superior Court judges divide their time between the two counties.

While Newton has the greater need, Walton has the room needed to accommodate a third judge, he said.

Ozburn said there is no established timeline for the expansion.

The Newton County Board of Commissioners would have to approve the project and determine funding.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.