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Changes at the top for county courthouse security

MONTESANO — Grays Harbor Sheriff Rick Scott says he’s selecting Detective Ed McGowan to be his next security director, taking the reigns from Dave Haller, who retired at the end of last year.

McGowan has 35 years with the Sheriff’s Office and is retiring from his detective position at the end of the month. The transition into the new position should be seamless. McGowan hasn’t officially accepted the position, but is expected to do so.

“This is a plan I’ve had in mind for some time and Ed had been spending some time with Dave to make sure the transition happens relatively easy,” Scott said.

Haller helped establish the county’s courthouse security measures following the attack on the courthouse in March of 2012. Haller, a retired Thurston County Sheriff’s detective, was brought on as a courthouse security consultant to come up with a plan to ensure the courthouse was protected.

Haller worked with Sheriff Mike Whelan and, after the sheriff retired, with Sheriff Rick Scott in setting up the various aspects of the county’s security plan — implementing metal detectors and an X-ray machine.\, He ensured that there’s only one public way to get in and out of the courthouse and hiring a consultant company to man the security devices and armed courthouse security deputies to work with the judges.

Haller said before retiring that he was honored to return to public service and help the county during a time of crisis. Haller’s career stretched for 41 years, beginning as a street cop confronting Los Angeles gang activities in the 1970s and ending after more than 15 years as a Thurston County sheriff’s detective, according to a profile in The Olympian. Haller was a mentor to many in the Thurston Sheriff’s Office. His co-workers described him as a master at cracking tough cases, coaxing the truth out of suspects with his interrogation skills and always remembering the victims in his pursuit of justice.

“We’re definitely going to miss Dave,” Scott said. “He was there when we really needed him.”

Haller started as a security consultant and soon took over a full-time security director job, costing the county about $48,000 for the salary and benefits of the job. Scott said that McGowan will cost about the same amount to take over the job.

“I think Ed is perfect for this job,” Scott said. “He’s been with the sheriff’s office for 35 years and he certainly knows everybody and their brother that works here.”

McGowan has been incident commander for many of the county’s big happenings, including the aftermath for the December 2007 storm.

About the only big need left in courthouse security is for cameras to be installed. Scott said he already purchased a stand-alone camera system to go at the place where the public comes into the courthouse to get screened.

“We’ll be able to keep those images on a laptop so we can confirm what’s happening and who’s coming in and out,” Scott said. “The entrance is usually the place where most issues happen, so this should help out a lot.”

More cameras are expected to be installed elsewhere in the courthouse and the county courtyard, as well. The sheriff said that security upgrades will be happening soon in the county jail and the plan is to expand those cameras to include other aspects of the county campus.

Even with all of the attention on security, people still bring in weapons to the courthouse facilities.

For the month of December, the county saw 3,692 people enter the historic courthouse in Montesano and 2,097 people enter the juvenile facility at Junction City as well as a few dozen people enter District Court 2 in Aberdeen.

However, court deputies needed to arrest eight people for violations, a report released to The Vidette states; and screeners recovered 86 knives — even though there are signs that clearly tell people to leave the knives elsewhere.