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Saturday, August 30, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 69.0° F  A Few Clouds
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Is courthouse weapons screening worth it?

One stated advantage of the county's new courthouse is that citizen visitors to the City-County Building no longer must undergo weapons screening. The new operation, budgeted at $394,800 in 2007, employs eight and a half screeners to ensure that the courthouse is weapon-free ' except, of course, for the many weapons brought into the building by law enforcement personnel.

So what are taxpayers getting for their $400,000 investment in courthouse safety?

In 2006, the new courthouse's first year, the screeners encountered five situations that prompted incident reports. This breaks down to one incident every 73 days and, roughly, every $75,000. And none of the incidents involved firearms, disruptive behavior or people on a clear mission to do harm.

The incidents:

6-5-06: A screener using an X-ray scanner found brass knuckles in a woman's handbag. She professed not to know what they were for, but her father, who was present, helpfully suggested, 'for beating up someone?' Police were called, but there is no record of charges being filed.

6-21-06: A screener intercepted a knife in a purse. The knife was confiscated and the woman released.

8-02-06: A switchblade was found in a woman's briefcase. Police were called but decided not to issue a citation.

8-22-06: Screeners found 'a very large knife with the shape of a gun' and drug paraphernalia in a woman's scanned bag. The items were confiscated and a citation was issued.

11-10-06: A 'throwing star' was spotted in a man's wallet, which he placed on the scanning belt. The star, which the man said he carried for self-defense, was confiscated and a citation issued.

Travis Myren, the county official who oversees the screening operation, says these reports represent 'unusual occurrences' involving weapons or disturbances, not the sum total of what screeners do. They also 'routinely identify and hold other objects like jackknives and box cutters' that visitors bring into the building.

County Exec Kathleen Falk says the courthouse is new and she's still monitoring the situation, says spokeswoman Joanne Haas.

Scott McDonell, the County Board chair, is pleased that 'we're no longer screening citizens doing their everyday business, paying the taxes, going to a meeting' at the City-County Building. But he's chagrined to learn that weapons screening is costing as much now as ever, although the number of screening stations has dropped from three to one: 'If we're not saving any money, that's a concern.'

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