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Most firearms prohibited from Sussex buildings

Stepped up security: Metal detector being installed in administration building
November 8, 2017

Starting Monday, Nov. 6, people entering Sussex County’s main administration building on The Circle in Georgetown will be required to pass through a magnetometer, or metal detector. At its Oct. 31 meeting, county council unanimously passed an ordinance prohibiting firearms in all county buildings, except those qualified by the state to carry a firearm.

State law was changed in 2015 to allow local governments to prohibit firearms in their buildings.

Full-time and part-time county employees, elected and appointed officials, and the county legal staff have been issued ID badges and will not be required to pass through the magnetometer, said County Administrator Todd Lawson.

Other exceptions include law enforcement officers, employees of the Sheriff's Office, people who have a concealed carry permit, and employees of companies required to carry firearms to protect money or other valuables as part of their jobs. Lawson said exceptions are taken word for word from state law.

Since Lawson took over as administrator six years ago, he said one of the main issues raised by employees has been security. The county has hired Sunstates Security LLC, the same trained and armed security firm the state utilizes. The administration building is monitored 24 hours a day, and during off-hours, security officers tour all other county facilities – the west complex, Delaware Coastal Airport, emergency operations center and industrial park.

Lawson said security officers make stops at the county's three libraries as well.

Over time, more security cameras, enhanced lighting and electronic key-controlled doors have been installed in county's buildings. An armed security guard is stationed in the administration building lobby, which also has a video monitoring station for county facilities.

Ron Verosko, the county's safety and security manager, oversees security measures in county facilities.

Lawson said most people don't realize use of the county's administration building is not restricted to normal working hours. The Clerk of the Peace Office conducts off-hours and Saturday weddings, and the building is open seven days a week to title searchers who access county property records.

In addition, the administration building is used for meetings – including many at night – beyond county council, planning and zoning commission and board of adjustment hearings.

Lawson said Delaware Capitol Police performed an assessment of county facilities; their top recommendation was installing magnetometers such as those placed at courthouses and other state buildings.

“We have to change with the times,” said Chip Guy, director of communications. “It's a change of routine for everyone, but we can't sit back and do nothing. We need to protect the employees and visiting public.”

Placing magnetometers at other county buildings is not out of the question. For now, the only magnetometer scheduled to be installed is in the lobby of the administration building. “It's where the most staff works and where the most foot traffic is,” Lawson said. “We'll see how it works out.”

During public testimony at the Oct. 31 hearing, Jeff Hague, president of Delaware State Sportsmen’s Association, said his organization and the National Rifle Association helped draft the state statute. “We are not in opposition to this ordinance. It’s unfortunate, but things have changed,” he said.

“You will not be able to stop something from happening, and removing guns makes it more dangerous,” said Dan Cramer of Greenwood.

He asked why county employees will not have to pass through the metal detector. “The danger will not come from outside people, but come from the inside. And why do you need a metal detector if you have an armed guard?” he asked.