Courthouse security, lighting in question after burglaries|[6/07/05]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 7, 2005

A spate of auto burglaries in the parking areas around the Warren County Courthouse has police and courthouse security officers puzzled.

Eight auto break-ins have been reported in six weeks in the rear parking lot and in spaces along Jackson Street.

“We have increased patrols in the area since the last one, and have done some night and evening field interviews with some people,” said Vicksburg Police Capt. Mark Culbertson.

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“Whoever it is has got to be pretty bold, with the jail being right there,” Culbertson said.

A Vicksburg attorney and two E-911 dispatchers are among the victims of the burglaries, which consist of windows either stripped or broken and items reported missing ranging from coins to a DVD player.

While four floodlights are on the building’s top ledge to illuminate the rear parking lot, no surveillance cameras watch that spot, said Chuck Thornton, director of buildings and security for Warren County.

The four surveillance cameras in place now point toward E-911 center the rear doorway that faces the parking lot, and the two side entrances at the courthouse. E-911 offices are in the basement of the courthouse.

While the Warren County Sheriff’s Department oversees security of the courts while in session and assists the police department in making rounds in the parking lot, only the surveillance cameras provide security after-hours, Sheriff Martin Pace said.

A committee of judges and law enforcement officials is studying the feasibility of improving the indoor security of the courthouse, but plans to increase the number of surveillance cameras watching the outside are still in the “research phase,” said Geoffrey Greetham, director of Vicksburg Warren E-911, who is overseeing a commission to seek bids to install new cameras.

David McDonald, president of the Warren County Board of Supervisors, while not discussing the burglaries directly, said the cost of replacing an antiquated recording system for the existing cameras has been a challenge.

Greetham estimates the cost of six new cameras, with two pointing toward the parking lot, at $7,000.

To that end, at least one request for a proposal has been completed to take bids for six new cameras, with two more to be completed by week’s end.

“We need the best solution for the best price for the county when it comes to security,” McDonald said, demurring on a time frame for when the new system would be up and running.

The recording system in place for the current cameras is an older VHS tape-based setup, McDonald said, while newer surveillance systems record on DVDs where dates and times can be accesssed, much like searching scenes in a movie.

“It will be a big upgrade on what we have now,” McDonald said.