Wednesday, Sep 17, 2014
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Ex cops keep courthouse, visitors safe

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BROOKSVILLE - Last week Custom Protection Officers Stephen Poluchowicz and Wes Sosna spotted a misplaced firearm in a lawyer's briefcase as it passed through the metal detector at the Hernando County Courthouse.

It wasn't an accident that Poluchowicz and Sosna spotted the gun, or calmly called for backup. They've seen worse.

"What most people don't know is everyone on this floor is retired police," Poluchowicz said on Friday, referencing the protection officers who guard the two courthouse entrances and metal detectors that all visitors pass through.

Poluchowicz, who has worked as a security guard at the courthouse for the past two years, is a retired New York City Police Department detective, and was a first responder on Sept. 11, 2001. Sosna, who has worked at the courthouse for nine months, is a retired NYPD sergeant and served a tour in Afghanistan from 2006-07.

Given their experience, Poluchowicz and Sosna agree a gun accidentally going through their metal detector isn't really a stand-out incident. But, Sosna said, the security officers "defuse" a lot of tense situations before individuals walk into the courtrooms.

"We don't know the mindset of people coming in," Poluchowicz said. "We don't know why they're coming through the (metal detector) machine."

Poluchowicz said in June alone, between 17,000 and 19,000 passed through their metal detector. Each person was screened, and the team spotted 140 knives, 20 cans of Mace, 200 scissors and 300 sharps, such as nail files or razor blades.

Visitors are allowed to return the items to their car, though a file cabinet drawer is full of surrendered knives and pepper spray bottles. Poluchowicz and Sosna keep each other on their toes, sometimes planting a fake gun or other object in a bin, or under a briefcase, just to make sure the other finds it.

And while the majority of visitors are at court because they're caught in an unfavorable situation, Poluchowicz and Sosna see the opportunity to offer a positive influence.

They watched out for the "shoe shine kid" back in June, when 12-year-old Patrick MacGregor sat within their view on the back steps of the courthouse. MacGregor offered $2 shoe shines, and Poluchowicz and Sosna made sure he stayed hydrated and sent potential clients his way.

"We don't hesitate to get involved with human interest projects," Sosna said.

Right now, Poluchowicz and Sosna are selling vouchers for Dairy Queen's Miracle Treat Day 2013, set for Aug. 8, when the company donates a portion of all Blizzards sold to Children's Miracle Network Hospitals. In the past two weeks, they've sold more than 60 tickets to courthouse staff and visitors.

"We're trying to help the Dairy Queen on 41 top the amount of money donated last year," Poluchowicz said, adding they've purchased some vouchers themselves to hand out to children coming to the courthouse.

According to Sosna, in the "eye of the storm, everything looks bad until you step back."

"We get people to do that, and they tell us their whole life story," he said. "We're good listeners."

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