COURT SECURITY SURVEY
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
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 committees 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
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.