Hold my phone, please

Like Guilford County, could Caldwell use lockers to hold phones for courthouse visitors?
Apr. 09, 2014 @ 08:25 AM

It wasn’t even 10 a.m. Friday, and Deputy Elyse Koerner had already turned away nearly a dozen people from the courthouse for bringing in cellphones.

On Jan. 1, cellphones, smartphones, e-readers, iPods and other electronic devices were banned from the Caldwell County courthouse for all but courthouse officials. Despite a notice posted on the entrance, courthouse visitors keep trying to come in with the devices anyway, forcing deputies to direct them back out to the parking lot to stash the items.

But not everyone comes in a car.

And that’s why anyone walking down Main Street will notice signs in several businesses across from the courthouse have posted signs on the front door pre-emptively announcing, “We cannot hold cellphones while you are in court.”

“People were coming in here several times a day asking if we could do so,” said Ann Canipe, who works at the law office of attorney Herb Pearce, located directly across the street from the courthouse. “We do it for our clients, but we were getting strangers, who we don’t know, off the street. It got to the point people would give me an attitude.”

Rachel Lominac, who works in the office of lawyer Thomas Whisnant, said she started out letting people drop off cellphones, but things got out of hand.

“I felt sorry for them,” she said. “But it had gotten to the point where one time a guy asked to leave his motorcycle helmet with me.”

Many governments have similar bans on electronic devices. In Guilford County, which imposed its ban Feb. 3, officials ordered small lockers to be placed at the High Point and Greensboro courthouses so visitors can stash cellphones and other small items.

Beginning this week, a total of 84 lockers will be used in Greensboro and 24 in High Point. For a quarter, visitors can place their devices in the 5” x 6” x 6” metal lockers as they enter, then retrieve them as they exit.

High Point’s lockers will be installed inside the lobby, but the lockers in Greensboro will be in a portable rack that can be wheeled to the front of the courthouse each day and wheeled back out of the way in the evening.

Guilford County paid $9,400, said Jeff Fowler, the Guilford County security director. Fowler does not expect the money from the use of the lockers will be substantial.

“The county isn’t really making money as such, because there is mainenance involved,” Fowler said.

Caldwell County Manager Stan Kiser said he didn’t think lockers would be an option here, partly because of the concern that officials wouldn’t know whether visitors might put weapons in one.

“In addition to any security concerns the sheriff has regarding such a box, I am not comfortable with the county taking possession of cellphones and then being held responsible for them as well,” Kiser said.

Sheriff Alan Jones agreed, but did not rule out the possibility of placing lockers at the courthouse in downtown Lenoir.

“I don’t want to be responsible for people’s cell phones, but it would be something to look at in the future,” Jones said. “Guilford County has a population of over 433,000 people, that’s a big difference when your comparing them to Caldwell County. I can see why they would need the lockers.”

Canipe thinks lockers at the courthouse for cellphones is a bad idea.

“Why should the county pick up the tab for people’s ignorance,” she said. “And what about security? You don’t know what they would put in a locker. Knives, shanks, explosive devices?”

Koerner also had mixed feelings.

“Would it be a good idea? Yes and no,” she said. “I see problems with that. What if a gust of wind came up and knocked them over. Would we be responsible for the damage to their phones?

“On the other hand, I feel bad when I have to turn elderly folks away who accidentally bring their phones in. The lockers could benefit them.”