American Judges Association

"The Voice of the Judiciary"

Court Security Survey Report


Table of Contents





          copy of the court security survey




During the annual AJA conferences in Toronto and Anchorage a court security survey was discussed and ultimately designed by the court security committee. It was the intent of the committee to use the survey to gather information from its members about the status of court security in their jurisdiction. In late 1997, a survey was sent to all members of the AJA requesting they return the surveys to Judge Gayle A. Nachtigal. Responses began to arrive and as of the writing of this report a few continue to appear.

In all we received 162 responses. The responses represent courts in 37 states, Guam and Puerto Rico. There is an equal representation of general and limited jurisdictions responding to the survey. While this committee does not pretend to be experts on surveys or their statistical validation, the responses appear to be consistent and generally fall into identifiable categories. As with many surveys, the committee is left with new unanswered questions and interesting responses generating additional questions. With the information gathered, the committee will be in a better position to suggest possible workshops for future conferences to hopefully address many of the concerns raised in the responses.




The majority (126) indicate, in response to question one, that their courthouses have some form of security. Twenty-seven responses indicate no security and nine are unable to answer the first question yes or no.

In reviewing the surveys indicating they have some form of courthouse security, the committee is struck by the different meanings attached to that question. What passes for security in one courthouse is very different from the security measures taken in another. Additionally, the level of security varies within a state. Generally, courts of limited jurisdiction appear to have fewer intensive levels of security, with some notable exceptions. Courthouse security measures range from full perimeter security with magnetometers, x-ray machines and secured areas for judicial chambers and staff, to one judge who indicates, he is the security. He did not identify exactly what besides himself he uses to providing the security, but the committee is left with the impression he probably has some sort of permit to carry the item.

Many courts identified locking doors, panic (duress) buttons and/or armed bailiffs as their form of courthouse security. The local agency responsible for responding to the panic buttons is not always clear as the survey did not specifically ask for that information. The survey did not ask for information about response times once the button is activated, however some surveys indicate the responding agency is located outside of their courthouse complex. This suggests a longer response time once the button is activated. When armed bailiffs are the main source of security, most surveys indicate additional security is available upon request. Just what form the additional security might take is not known. Again, the questionnaire did not request this additional information.

If security is provided, the majority of courthouses depend upon their local law enforcement agency for the personnel to operate the equipment, provide the response and/or run the program. 17% indicate they hire private security companies to provided perimeter or checkpoint security. Security provided in the courtroom itself appears to be universally provided by the local law enforcement agency responsible for that court. A small number of courts indicate they use individuals they identify as "bailiffs," "commissioned deputies," or "court security officers" to provide courtroom security. It is the committee’s guess that these groups may in fact be individuals who are part of a local law enforcement agency or they may also be court personnel specifically hired to provide security.

Courthouses with security equipment usually use metal detectors or magnetometers along with x-ray machines. Seventeen courts indicate they have closed circuit television at entrances and in the individual courtrooms. Twenty-four courts have individuals entering a courtroom, pass by officers with hand-held metal detectors. It is uncertain from the information provided if this means everyone entering a particular courtroom or if the officer only uses the detectors on particular individuals. One court indicates, the equipment available to them is on loan from the Federal District Court and may only be used during jury trials. Another indicates the equipment available is only to be used by their state Court of Appeals.

Question two deals with the statutory authority available in the individual jurisdictions dealing specifically with court security. The majority responding to this question indicate they have no specific statutory authorization. It is interesting to note the different responses within the same state and even within the same geographic area of the state. Many courts, while indicating there is no specific statute, note a rule or order of their Supreme Court setting out responsibility for court security. This authority appears to fall under the inherent power of the judiciary to operate a court system. Some states have statutes prohibiting guns, weapons, and other hazardous materials from being in the courthouse and from that prohibition courts develop local policies and procedures. Many limited jurisdiction courts indicate they do not have an adequate city or municipal ordinance to effectively deal with their need for security.

Responses to question three mirror the answers in question two. If there are no specific statutes dealing with court security, then generally they do not have a formal court security committee. A few courts indicate they are without statutory authority, but by judicial administrative rule they establish a committee. Established committees meet from as often as bimonthly to once a year or "as needed." Some courts deal with issues of security within their emergency planning committees. Emergency planning committees also deal with fire, earthquake and other natural disasters which are broader issues than what is typically referred to as court security.

Membership on the committees is fairly consistent within the various courts. In addition to Judges and Sheriffs (local law enforcement agency), committees typically have representatives from other departments housed in the local courthouse, members of the public, and the person responsible for emergency planning for the area. One court also has a member whose responsibility is dealing with ADA (Americans with Disability Act) issues. These committees appear to deal with everything from security policies to safety drills to court relocation plans. It is fairly clear that the security committees are attempting to address issues broader than just weapons or dangerous situations within the courthouse.

In response to question four, the responding courts are evenly divided on experiencing opposition to the development of security for the courthouse. The financial aspect of providing adequate security is a universal factor in the opposition. Additional opposition comes from attorneys who wanted to be excluded from having to pass through security. In several courthouses no one but identified individuals are permitted to have a weapon while in the courthouse. When that rule is in place, there are reports of opposition from other law enforcement agencies who have not been authorized to carry weapons in the courthouse. In one response, the court indicates opposition from the local Sheriff unless he is allowed to be in control of the security and the personnel.

Questions five, six, seven, and eight all deal with aspects of a formal court security plan. Of the courts with some form of security, 56 identify themselves as having a formal plan and 56 indicate they have no plan. Generally all plans include, evacuation routes, gathering places and persons responsible for particular activities. These activities include, checking to make sure everyone is out of a particular area, closing doors and knowing where to take people in emergency situations. The plans also included procedures for dealing with bomb threats and suspicious packages. No court allows their plan to be made available to the general public. The full plan is only available on a need to know basis. Responsibility for updating the plan varies from court to court. Several courts indicate they did not know who was responsible and one court identified the responsible person and the "overworked court administrator." When individuals are identified, they are generally either Judges or law enforcement agencies. One court has the responsibility with the risk management office.

Question nine deals with the funding sources available locally for court security. The lack of adequate funding is one of the primary reasons many courts have no formal court security. Some of the more unusual funding sources are as follows: Bar Association donations, creative budgeting, special court assessments on criminal actions, and the judges pay for it themselves. Most courts with some consistent funding source identify that source as a general fund at the state, county or local level. One state indicates they have a grant to start the system but no ongoing funding source beyond general fund dollars at the local level.



Court Security - what is it? How do the individual courts handle issues of security? Who is responsible and who should be responsible for the security of the people working in and using our local courthouses? If security is necessary, how should it be funded? What is the best equipment available for the money to be spent in order to provide adequate security? How do you handle opposition to the installation of security measures? The above are just a few of the questions raised by the survey and its responses. In order to provide information and perhaps a few answers, the court security committee recommends to the AJA that the topic of court security be addressed regularly at the annual meetings. Particular questions could be the focus of different workshops occurring at the same time during the education sessions of the annual meeting. Members could choose the workshop addressing the needs or issues facing their court. The committee is aware of a study being done through the National Center to review and update the information available on court security equipment. Making sure this type of information is available to all courts is another possible function for this committee.




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