Local Courthouse Safety Act
Local courthouses are dangerous places. Stakes are high. Tempers flare. Victims confront their assailants; defendants confront their accusers; and prosecutors argue with defense lawyers.
A rash of incidents in late 2011 raised serious concerns about security at local courthouses. In September, a defendant opened fire in the Crawford County Courthouse in Arkansas, killing a judge's secretary. Two days later, police killed a defendant in the Adams County Superior Court in Indiana after he pointed a gun at them. Neither of those courthouses had metal detectors. In December, a defendant retrieved a gun from his car, walked into the Cook County Courthouse in Minnesota, and shot the prosecuting attorney, and a witness. That courthouse did not have a metal detector, either. In fact, after that shooting, the Executive Director of the Minnesota Sheriff's Association estimated that most rural courthouses in the state have no metal detector on site.
The Bureau of Justice Assistance recently commissioned the National Center for State Courts and the Center on Judicial and Executive Security to conduct a comprehensive study of local courthouse security. In the mean time, anecdotal evidence demonstrates that security at many local courthouses is lax, particularly in rural and suburban areas where access to equipment and resources is especially scarce. Our local police, court personnel, and communities remain in harm's way as a result. One Minnesota judge put it well in recent correspondence to his colleagues: "I'm no longer willing to risk my life, the life of court staff, (and) the life of the public who have no choice about going to court."
The Local Courthouse Safety Act will give local courthouses access to the resources they need to improve security. It will:
1) Provide local courts with access to security training and risk assessments. The bill will authorize the Justice Department to operate its VALOR Initiative, which provides training and technical assistance to local law enforcement, teaching them how to anticipate and survive violent encounters.
2) Give states authority to use existing grant money to improve courthouse security. The bill will clarify that states can use Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants and State Homeland Security Grants to improve security at local courthouses.
3) Cut through bureaucratic red tape, giving local courts access to excess federal security equipment. The Defense Department currently has authority to give excess equipment directly to local police and firefighters. This bill similarly would give local courts direct access to excess federal security equipment, like metal detectors, wands, and baggage screening machines.
The Center for Judicial and Executive Security supports this bill. For more information, please contact Joshua Riley at Joshua_Riley@judiciary-dem.senate.gov