Staff Sgt. Anthony Vaughn has noticed a change in the demeanor of visitors to the Beaufort County Courthouse after more than 40 surveillance cameras were installed earlier this year.
"People come in and they can't help but notice all the cameras and the screens," Vaughn said. "They're definitely better behaved because they know they're being watched."
Vaughn supervises five sheriff's deputies in charge of courthouse security, a job county officials made easier last year when they tapped a Charleston security firm to install the security upgrades, including an expansive surveillance network. The project is expected to be completed this month and paid for from a county capital improvement projects fund, according to county records.
What once was a law library in the courthouse now houses what Sheriff P.J. Tanner dubbed the "command center." There, deputies monitor video feeds from cameras in and around the courthouse on five large flat-screen televisions mounted to the wall.
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"The entire courthouse is now under surveillance ... and everything is being recorded," Tanner said. "... The courthouse has always been secure, but through the use of technology, it's now more secure than it's ever been."
The county hired Technology of Solutions of Charleston nearly a year ago after S.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal recommended that counties statewide upgrade courthouse security. The firm's $138,000 bid was less than half of the $300,000 estimated cost, according to county records.
That savings has allowed the county to seek bids this month for additional courthouse security upgrades, said Rob McFee, director of the county's engineering division.
"We got a good price on the first contract ... and the next phase represents the 'value-added' portion of the project," McFee said.
That second phase will include additional surveillance cameras, a new public address system and remote locks that will allow deputies in the command center to lock down individual courtrooms, if necessary. County officials declined to release the engineer's cost estimate for the project until after the March 16 deadline for bids has passed.
The second phase is expected to begin in the spring, McFee said.
Once all of the new security measures are in place, the courthouse would be "the most secure building in Beaufort County -- other than the vault at your nearest bank," Tanner said.