AUGUSTA — If you’re headed into any of the four court buildings in Kennebec County, leave your knives at home.

Otherwise, you can kiss them goodbye when entry screeners confiscate them.

All knives, regardless of sentimental or monetary value, will be seized and destroyed under policies implemented in connection with stepped-up screening at the public courts in Augusta. Other counties are doing more entry screening in state courts as well.

Other contraband subject to seizure includes Mace, screwdrivers, Leatherman items and similar multi-tools and just about any tool that is a potential weapon.

“We’re dedicated to ensuring the safety of all the people in the courthouse, witnesses, victims, defendants,” said Lt. Michael Hicks, who heads the court security division of the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office.

One day recently, court security officers screened 215 people — jurors, defendants, witnesses and others transacting business — who entered via the stone portico at the main entrance to Kennebec County Courthouse.

The screening is less intrusive than people encounter at airports, but almost as time-consuming.

Handbags were searched, cell phones studied and computers examined. Then, entrants headed for the metal-detecting archway.

“Step through, please.”

“You’re okay.”

Entry screening is more frequently seen at Augusta District Court and Waterville District Court. Screening at the superior court in Augusta was unusual unless a serious criminal case was under way.

But now, screening will occur more often in all courts, Hicks added.

“We want to include superior and family court,” Hicks said. The Family Court Division is on Stone Street.

And that push is taking place in other counties as well.

Leigh Saufley, chief justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, has frequently campaigned for increased security in state courthouses.

“We are constantly concerned that terribly dangerous weapons will be brought into courthouses, and every day we’re reminded how quickly violence can prove to be tragically lethal,” Saufley said Thursday. “The good news is the Legislature and the governor both recognized the concerns and worked with us in efforts to improve front door screening at courthouses throughout the state.”

So far, it is working well, she said.

“In every county, we are attempting to provide more entry screening. You’ll see it at random times … It’s not just for certain dockets.

“It’s critically important for people to know people cannot bring weapons into the courthouse.”

With at least six exterior doors, the 1830s Kennebec County Courthouse — which houses superior court, probate court and a number of county offices — can be described as a security sieve.

“Even though it presents logistical problems, we needed to overcome those and provide security there,” Hicks said. “If it’s important in district court, security’s equally important in the criminal superior court.”

Last week, all exterior doors at the courthouse were locked except the main door that faces State Street. A sign posted at the handicapped-accessible entrance on Winthrop Street indicated how to be admitted there.

“Ultimately, there will be a new building, and in the meantime we have to deal with what we have,” Hicks said.

Hicks said the schedule of screening is so random that some buildings have screeners in the morning, and those deputies might move to another facility in the afternoon.

“There’s just no pattern to it,” he said.

Initially, officers on the court security details would hold knives and other items and return them when the owners departed the courthouse.

But trying to keep track of the items is a liability for the officers.

“It’s slowing the process,” Hicks said. Current policy calls for them to be seized and destroyed.

Notices about contraband items are posted on doors.

“We don’t want to take a knife a grandparent had given them,” Hicks said. “People get extremely upset.”

Sometimes, arrests result when officers discover illegal drugs.

If it’s a small amount of marijuana, the person receive a summons and a court hearing date, or a card saying they must contact a detective with the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office within 48 hours.

“We’re not really looking for our court security people to be in the position of having to arrest people,” Hicks said. “It takes us away from our work and we don’t want to leave the courts uncovered.”

Kennebec County is one of four where the sheriff’s department provides court security under contract with the state. The other counties are Penobscot, Lincoln and Somerset.

Hicks’ division has a $320,000 budget to cover the 16 officers.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

“All persons are prohibited from entering or remaining in any Supreme Judicial, Superior, or District Court facility which shall include any courtroom, judicial chambers, clerk’s office, conference room, law library, lobby or any other area or building within the control or supervision of the Maine Judicial Branch, if armed with a firearm, other dangerous weapon or in possession of a disabling chemical.”

Source: Administrative Order JB-05-9, State of Maine, Supreme Judicial Court