A recent study by the Washington State Board for Judicial Administration (BJA) provides information to help protect our courts from violence. The BJA, co-chaired by Grant County District Court Judge Janis Whitener-Moberg and King County Superior Court Judge Steven C. González, adopted Public Safety Standards for Washington State Courthouses in July 2007.
The Standards provide guidance for courts of all sizes in all parts of Washington for implementing security training, screening, weapons policy, use of force, alarm systems, key card access, threat assessment and facility design.
Additionally, the Administrative Office of the Courts assisted to develop a comprehensive system for reporting and tracking security incidents across the state. The incidents that have been reported in the last two years are striking, both in number and scope of threat and attack, according to Judge González.
Increased presence of law enforcement is one of the primary issues on which our courts need to focus.
Weapons screening stations should have:
• Adequate room for people to congregate inside, out of the weather, without being so crowded as to present additional security problems.
• A magnetometer, x-ray equipment, and hand-held magnetometers for backup screening.
• A duress alarm to summon additional help if needed.
• Closed circuit television monitoring of the access point.
• Adequate staffing of at least two trained staff to monitor traffic flow and at least one officer with a weapon to observe and respond to emergencies.
• Access to a private area to conduct more thorough searches using same gender personnel.
Federal Way Municipal Court has one unarmed security guard at the metal detectors. Two armed bailiffs are usually busy transporting prisoners; Federal Way personnel with whom I have spoken are concerned for their own safety, the safety of judges, attorneys and other parties such as defendants and witnesses, as well as the public.
Indeed! The metal detector ensures that only an occasional LEO inside the courthouse is armed but also ensures that an intruder that can get past the unarmed security officer will be in an almost gun free environment. If such a scenario seems far-fetched then why do we have the metal detectors? In fact, Judge González states, every kind of threat, including threats to prosecutors and judges are on the upsurge and numerous judges, attorneys and other persons have been gunned down in the courtrooms of the United States.
Sudden violence has erupted in King County courts, too!
If we ask folks to disarm in order to enter the courthouse, we need to take reasonable precautions against foreseeable threats. The presiding judge can take some leadership on such issues and should be doing so.
In the entrance to the Thurston County District Court there are usually two attendants, both experienced LEOs, always with sidearms. In the Kitsap County Courthouse there are often three officers, always armed. In neighboring Fife there is an armed security officer at the metal detectors and always an armed bailiff in the courtroom. The prosecutor is also armed.
Many judges are also armed, according to well-placed sources. King County Superior Court and the King County District Courts station armed sheriff’s deputies along with unarmed security guards at the metal detectors.
Of course, there are also other courts in our area that choose to remain in denial as to the level of threat confronting those of us that enter the courthouse doors.
Any public official, including a judge, should be willing to sacrifice some of his or her salary in order to provide an armed presence at the entrance to our courthouse. Any city council member that is willing to sacrifice the safety of the public in order to solve the current budget crisis should be voted out of office.
See it for real: Video of man with AK-47 invading a courthouse.