TYLER, TX (KLTV) - A lot has changed since the Smith County Courthouse was built in the 1950s, but changes are quietly being made to make the facility safer than it has ever been.
"We've installed some safes in strategic locations in the courthouse," Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith said.
The safes will hold shotguns and rifles for use by courthouse deputies in case of an emergency. Smith did not want to disclose where the safes were located in the courthouse due to security concerns, but our crew spotted one in a district courtroom.
KLTV 7 learned the safes will have limited access thanks to bio-metric technology in use by the manufacturer that requires a fingerprint to open the safe.
The courthouse deputies also received training with the new weaponry available for their use in times of crisis.
"We don't need another wake-up call," Smith said referring to the 2005 shooting at the Smith County Courthouse.
On February 24, 2005, David Arroyo gunned down his own family on the back steps of the courthouse, leaving his ex-wife and a bystander dead. He was later killed by police after a short chase in northeast Tyler.
Smith said he thinks if the measures in place today would have been in place in 2005, there might have been fewer injuries and fatalities.
"I would like to think if we had the long guns," Smith said. "The long gun the perpetrator had --- our handguns were no match for that. If we had rifles, we probably could have stopped him then before as many people got injured or killed."
The county also installed additional cameras to the courthouse's exterior over the past few years. Another change made was securing an underground entrance to the courthouse used to transport inmates in and out of the courthouse. That entrance can still be used, but only with access through a locked gate --- the public has direct access to that portion of the courthouse.
Additional changes are still planned for the deputies guarding the legal process in Smith County, including deputies being armed with Tasers to help restrain defendants who get out of control.
"Those are the easiest way either to hurt or cause injury to the defendant or one of our people or personnel," Smith said.
The sheriff points to statistics based on his patrol unit's use of the stun guns. He said since they issued 48 stun guns to deputies, they have had no deputies injured in an altercation.
Courthouse deputies will be put through training before the new weapons are issued to them for use in the courthouse.
The stun guns and long guns were paid with taxpayer money through the courthouse security fund. Other improvements were paid through donations.
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