Willie Covington keeps two remote controls in his desk drawer at work, each a reminder of the sort of petty crime that can occasionally darken the hallways of the county's government building.
Covington is the county's register of deeds. The two remote controls in his desk are all that remain from two stereo systems swiped from his office -- the first six or seven years ago, the second taken just last year. The first thief escaped; the second was caught on a security camera installed just before the theft and was eventually jailed.
These days, Covington is working to increase the safety of his staff and the security of the aged land records under his charge.
Although there is no rampant crime problem within the walls of the public building, the occasional snoop does keep workers on edge. The county is now doubling the number of cameras monitoring the deeds office, and extra doorways and doors are being constructed to deter those prone to wandering the hallways.
"We're downtown, and we have a lot of people who are not coming through to conduct county business," Covington said recently. "They just wander through the area."
The Register of Deeds Office, a clearinghouse for all county land records and other important documents, takes up most of the basement of the government building, which is at 200 E. Main St. Thanks to county growth, the deeds office is a growing enterprise; it now does more than twice the business it did in 1996 when Covington was first elected to head the office, an expansion that brings with it more foot traffic. The only other ground-floor tenant, a Subway sandwich shop, brings in people as well.
The deeds office is a bit disjointed. There are two entrances, and Covington's office is set to the back, down a long, narrow hallway that leads to an exit emptying to a side street.
Over time, intruders have taken all sorts of office supplies. One thief a few years back reached over a counter and took an official seal stamper, the sort that could be used to create forged documents. Another time, someone walked to an employee break area, opened a refrigerator and helped himself to a soft drink.
And then there's the restroom situation.
"We had people come in to steal toilet paper until we put locks on the bathroom," Covington said.
Enforcement in public buildings can be dicey. Because it is technically the people's building, it is open to everyone -- at least when they're there with good intentions.
The building does have at least one security guard who patrols the hallways and parking lots, and employees say they have learned to take simple precautions.
"I do feel safe," said Carol Bond, a data systems administrator whose office is tucked away around a corner not far from where Covington works. "I'm mindful about locking my doors and keeping my drawers closed."
Staff writer Eric Ferreri can be reached at 956-2415 or firstname.lastname@example.org.