By Jason A. Smith
Henry County is taking measures to protect its government leaders -- and the public.
The county has installed a metal detector at the entrance of the Community Room of the Administration Building, at 140 Henry Pkwy., in McDonough.
Henry Commission Chairman Elizabeth "B.J." Mathis said the detector was put in place in response to a pair of incidents involving injuries to government officials.
"There have been incidences across the country, in public meetings, where someone has brandished a weapon," she said.
In December of 2010, a father, Clay Duke, opened fire on school board members in a Panama City, Fla., board meeting, moments before killing himself, according to the Associated Press.
On Jan. 8, 2011, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was among the victims in a shooting at a community meeting at a supermarket in Arizona.
Mathis said using the metal detector creates a more-secure environment for Henry commissioners, county leaders, and the public.
"In the times that we're in, with the economy like it is, people's emotions are high," she said. "There's a lot of concern, worry, stress, and things like that. We had talked about this for a number of years, and we felt like for the safety, not only of elected officials, but the public who attend the meetings, this would be a very quick and easy way to ensure that our meetings are safe, for anyone who is in attendance."
Henry County Manager James C. "Butch" Sanders, Jr., echoed the chairman's sentiments. He said the decision to implement the device was a precautionary measure, and not the result of any episodes of violence, locally.
"It's been escalating over a period of years," he said. "We wanted to make sure that anybody who attended from the general public, expected [the detector] and was not caught off guard by that."
The Henry County Police Department will monitor the detector, which was installed last week, said Police Chief Keith Nichols. The device, he explained, is designed to respond to any kind of metal which could be a weapon.
"If it goes off, we'll use a handheld wand to isolate [the source], and see what the issue might be," Nichols said. "If it's something we can deter, obviously, that's something we need to do."
The Ranger walk-through metal detector was donated by Sunglass Hut in 2005, according to county spokesperson, Julie Hoover-Ernst.
"Had the County had to purchase a machine, it would have cost approximately $2,500," Hoover-Ernst said. "The Garrett handheld device cost $116."
She added that the detector will be used in addition to the Henry police officers, who have been providing security during commission meetings for several years.