Protection Overkill

     Living in what passes for a big city in Florida, and having lived in an actual big city for several years before moving here, I’ve gotten used to being the big dog in the county where I reside, municipally speaking. Although I come from a small town I haven’t actually lived in one in 12 years and typically don’t spend much time in small towns.
     There’s a reason small towns are small, and it’s because nothing important goes on in them. Unless we’re talking about Bartow, Florida, a.k.a. the sticks.
     Apparently county officials in Bartow either believe they have the nation’s most important courthouse, or they received some pork barrel spending and decided to upgrade security.
     I’ve been in and out of dozens of courts as part of my job and have seen just about every level of security you can imagine. You can’t bring phones or laptops into the federal building in Tampa (for some unknown reason nobody will cop to), but you could haul a mainframe into the federal building in Dallas provided you can fit it in the door. In Pinellas County you don’t have to go through any metal detectors until just outside actual courtroom doors, but in Pasco County you walk through metal detectors right inside the doorway. Pasco County actually has different types of security in its two different courthouses.
     All of this pales, glaringly, in comparison to the security at the Polk County courthouse.
     Upon entering the building you are immediately funneled to the left or right metal detectors by Wackenhut rent-a-cops who generally treat you like you’re openly carrying two fully automatic rifles and six pounds of explosives strapped to your chest. You then have to walk into a large white machine which blows three puffs of air up both sides of your body, wait until the warning light turns green, and then proceed to the traditional metal detector.
     The entire time, police academy rejects bark commands like pissed off concentration camp guards and treat everyone like they’ve never even seen metal detectors.
     Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against courthouse security. I actually like it. I tend to get nervous in places that can create tremendous amounts of grief and frustration in people who are generally not accustomed to seeing very important aspects of their lives treated so coldly. In the back corner of my mind I’m worried that some nut job with a lethal chemical imbalance will come in and make me a national headline anytime I’m in a courthouse that doesn’t feature some basic level of armed protection.
     But come on. Two large commercial airplanes were flown into the two most important commercial buildings in this country seven years ago, and airport security isn’t even this strict.
     Bartow is completely isolated, 40 miles from Tampa, south of Lakeland by a good chunk, north of nowhere. It has a population of just over 16,000 according to a Census Bureau estimate in 2005. Exporting high school graduates seems to be its biggest industry.
     You wouldn’t know that by its courthouse security. There’s either a mountain of gold bricks under the building, or Bartow thinks it’s more important than it actually is.
     From the looks of the city’s main drag, I’d guess the latter every day of the week.

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