My dad worked at the Pentagon when I was a teenager.
Even then, in a pre-Sept. 11 world, security was tight. I grew up with an understanding that it's best to leave weapons at home when you visit important government buildings. I was in high school when I learned this isn't necessarily general knowledge.
My uncle visiting from Georgia carried a pocket knife of high sentimental value with him everywhere, and didn't think twice about the contents of his pocket when we all went to tour the Pentagon. Long, dramatic story short: His knife was confiscated.
Now it's a funny story that gets retold and embellished at family gatherings, but I never thought about it from the security guard's perspective until my most recent class at Pinellas County Sheriff's Citizens Academy.
Three longtime deputies with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office shared their tales of providing security at the Pinellas County Courthouse.
Most people think of it as a "retirement" assignment, but really the courthouse is one of the busiest places to work. It's essentially a hub for the all the criminals in Pinellas County, they said, providing us with hand sanitizer at nearly every turn of our guided tour.
They showed us a small arsenal of weapons they confiscated from people attempting to enter the courthouses in Pinellas County.
You have to be alert, always on your game, explained one of the deputies, whose appearance and voice reminded me an awful lot of Bill Murray.
"Hey, you forgot your cane," the Bill Murray lookalike deputy said to another as he handed him a seemingly harmless, everyday walking cane. "Oh wait, no ... "
He pulled the crook-style handle apart from the shaft, and like a sword from a holster — voilà — it's a shank!
Our jaws (or at least my jaw) dropped in absolute amazement.
That's why you've got to be on your toes; anything can be a weapon, he said. "We get paid to be curious, folks."
The Bill Murray lookalike deputy continued giving us a visual tour of confiscated weapons. In it:
- Another shank-modified walking cane
- Pocket knives
- A lighter shaped like a gun
- More lighters that transformed into knives
- Pepper spray
- Brass knuckles
- Keychains that could be used as brass knuckles
- And the coup de grace: Ninja stars
Seriously?! Who tries to brings ninja stars through a security checkpoint?!
Well ... if they were smart, they wouldn't be here in the first place, one of the deputies said.
Then they showed surveillance video from a 2008 shooting inside a St. Petersburg courthouse. A deputy at the security checkpoint responded in break-neck speed, and the shooter was stopped in a matter of seconds after he opened fire.
Umm ... let's just be real. The dude never had a chance.
Moral of the story is: the Pinellas County Sheriff's deputies know what they're doing, so seriously, just leave the ninja stars and the cane shanks at home.
On the Docket: I get behind the wheel of a cruiser. (I hope they're ready to lose a few cones!)
I am writing a weekly series about my experience in the 33rd class of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office's Citizens Academy. The three-month program offers a behind-the-scenes look at the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. It is open to eligible, adult members of the community and is free of charge. (More criteria here.)
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