by CHRIS ROGERS
After asking him to make the proposal, the Winona County Board declined to act on a request from Sheriff Ron Ganrude for more security at the Winona County Courthouse.
The county currently contracts with private guards from Premier Security to guard the courthouse and act as bailiffs. Last week, Ganrude asked the County Board to supplement the private guards by adding a full-time sheriff’s deputy position at a cost of $73,000 a year. Ganrude reported that there has been an increased need for security at the courthouse, and that deputies are currently pulled away from their regular duties to assist. He argued that, as a licensed peace officer, a deputy would be more capable of dealing with security incidents at the courthouse than private guards. County Board members Steve Jacob, Marcia Ward, and Greg Olson were skeptical of the need for the additional deputy and voted to delay action on the request.
Board asked sheriff for proposal
Just three months ago, the County Board voted unanimously to ask Ganrude to bring this request forward. In January, the Winona County Board agreed to start hiring a new emergency manager; the half-time position had been vacant for seven months. From Pickwick to St. Charles, first responders urged the County Board to hire an emergency manager and increase the position to full-time. At the time, Ganrude proposed splitting a full-time position 80-20 between emergency management and courthouse security. While preparing the county for the next disaster really ought to be a full-time position, there is also a need for additional security at the courthouse; the county needs both, Ganrude told the County Board. “We’re getting more and more requests from the judges, from court administration, and from the County Attorney’s Office to provide more security for those high profile cases and just special cases,” he said. Winona County Administrator Ken Fritz endorsed Ganrude’s proposal, saying, “To have another deputy position [for courthouse security], with our budget, the odds are it’s probably not going to get funded.”
The County Board turned down Ganrude’s proposal in favor of heading the pleas of first responders: the emergency manager should focus on emergency preparedness full-time. However, some board members signaled a willingness to consider hiring a deputy for courthouse security, as well. “Quite frankly, I think you need another deputy,” commissioner Jim Pomeroy told Ganrude. “I see that what you really need is an additional deputy to handle routine duties and enhance courthouse security,” commissioner Marie Kovecsi stated. Jacob said, “I’d like to see us put a full-time person just in the emergency management [role], and then if there’s additional duties, we’ve got to figure that out.” Pomeroy made a motion to hire a full-time emergency manager and ask Ganrude to come back with his case for hiring a courthouse security deputy. Olson seconded the motion, and all five commissioners voted for it.
“Thank you for giving us a full-time emergency manager, but I think this is important, too,” Ganrude said, as he made the case for adding a courthouse security deputy last week. “The people that come to the courthouse are a lot of the people my deputies or police officers have just arrested, and now they’re coming back to the courthouse, not on very good terms,” Ganrude stated. Winona County Attorney Karin Sonneman — whose office is in the courthouse — backed him up, mentioning a 2011 case in Grand Marais, Minn., in which a newly convicted sex offender shot the county attorney, a witness, and a bailiff inside the Cook County Courthouse. “I think it’s really important to prepare for not if, but when something may happen in the courthouse,” she said.
The Cook County Courthouse did not have metal detectors, according to Minnesota Public Radio. The Winona County Courthouse just got a fully functioning metal detector this year, thanks to a state grant. The previous metal detector did not work properly, according to county officials. The metal detector is staffed during high-profile hearings, and on some, randomly selected days. Currently, jail deputies or reserve officers are sometimes called in to staff it. Ganrude said that with an added deputy, the county could staff the metal detector every day.
Ganrude said Premier Security guards do a good job, and he did not want to stop contracting with them; he just wanted to add a licensed deputy. However, pressed on why an extra deputy was needed, Ganrude raised several concerns with Premier Security. Ganrude said that, for years, he has asked for the guards’ training records but has never received them. “The big concern I have is the sheriff is mandated by statute to provide security at the courthouse. We’re using people, [and] I don’t know their training,” he stated. Ganrude said that lately, there has been high turnover among security guards at the courthouse, with four different employees in two months. The sheriff also claimed that private security guards have less clear-cut power to arrest citizens at the courthouse front door than licensed peace officers do. Finally, Ganrude said that the security guards have been directed to call for a licensed officer if there is a major incident at the courthouse. While the law enforcement center is right next door, sometimes all of the working officers are out on patrol and not available to respond, he stated. If it is important to have licensed deputies patrolling the county, “they’re that important at the courthouse,” Winona County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Jeff Mueller said.
Private security company responds
In an interview, Premier Security CEO Dan Walker said he supports Ganrude’s request for an added deputy to oversee courthouse security. “Our guards are capable, and over the years, yes, what was common is that two security staff were more than enough,” he said. Now, Walker continued, “An additional body may be needed to deal with some additional issues that may come up, and the bad thing is that it may not happen for a week, two weeks, or six months. You never know.” However, he said that it is up to his clients to decide how they want to provide security.
Walker acknowledged that his firm had not provided training records and said the error would be corrected today. Walker confirmed Ganrude’s claim about turnover. For six years, the same two guards served Winona County, but since then, there has been turnover, he said. That is natural, he added. “You know what, I don’t care if it’s small town law enforcement or private security, for what they — the county there — are charged per hour, there is probably going to be some turnover,” Walker stated. However, Walker said that all of the courthouse guards receive training on use of force, firearm proficiency, critical decision-making skills, and emergency response before their first shift as a guard. He stated that private guards do have the power to arrest people at the courthouse under Minnesota’s citizen-arrest laws.
Board postpones request
Walker was not at last week’s County Board meeting, but Jacob stood up for his company. “We get turnover. It happens,” Jacob stated. “I’m extremely disheartened to hear the seeds of distrust planted in the private sector,” Jacob said of Ganrude’s comments, adding that Premier Security should have been at the meeting to defend itself. “You’re implying they’re not trained ... We don’t know if they’re not,” Jacob told Ganrude.
There were other reasons county officials did not approve Ganrude’s request. Fritz advised the County Board against it on procedural grounds, saying that requests for additional staff ought to be considered during the annual budget process so that the needs of different departments and the county’s limited resources can be considered holistically. Fritz also reminded the County Board that the county expects a $771,00 deficit this year. “Adding a new deputy to this will increase the deficit not only for this but will add to it in the future,” he stated.
“I do have a little concern over the precedent this is setting,” Olson told Ganrude. “You stand before us requesting a position — and we asked you to, and I understand that — kind of circumnavigating the process we have for asking for personnel.” Olson also said it might create a labor-relations problem to task an entry-level deputy with responsibility for supervising courthouse security.
If there is a problem with Premier Security, the county needs to do a better job of managing that contract, Ward said in an interview. “I personally haven’t been exposed to any problems,” she added of courthouse security. “It hasn’t been brought to my attention by constituents, and we answer to the constituents.”
In a 3-2 vote, Jacob, Olson, and Ward voted to postpone any further discussion until more information could be provided by Premier Security. Pomeroy and Kovecsi dissented. They were ready to approve Ganrude’s request. “Four people in two months is very high turnover, and to me, that’s a critical position over there because it’s public safety,” Kovecsi said. She added to Ganrude, “Last time we said, ‘No, it’s so important to have an emergency management person full-time,’ which left a big hole on the other half position you were requesting … In a sense, we asked you to request this.”
Keep reading the Winona Post for more on this story.