FOCUSING ON COURT SECURITY AND SAFETY AS A PRIORITY
Security is everyone's business. Any occurrence that is suspicious in nature should be brought to the attention of a security officer in the Courthouse immediately.
Comprehensive security plans and programs for courts help ensure an atmosphere of relative comfort and safety in which to conduct judicial business. In addition to court security personnel and Department of Corrections and Capitol Police officers, who are responsible for overall court security in the courthouses, everyone involved in the court’s business, including judges, staff, attorneys, litigants, and the general public, play a role. It is through cooperation, alertness to potential dangers, and knowledge of the security plan, that security can be fostered. Security plans include operational aspects (covering perimeter, facility, and internal security measures), plus coordinated responses to security incidents and threats.
Unless on-going efforts focus on security as a priority, awareness can fade with the passage of time and changes in personnel. Delaware’s efforts to address court security have been on-going, with the Court Security Task Force, jointly chaired by Superior Court Judge William C. Carpenter, Jr. and former Secretaries of the then Department of Public Safety, serving as an important initiative. The Task Force issued its Report on April 30, 2001. Subsequent to the Report, in 2005, the Judicial Branch reached out to the U.S. Marshals’ Service and requested assistance in reviewing security in the Delaware state courts. The U.S. Marshal has completed a number of reviews, including the New Castle County Courthouse, the Supreme Court (Dover), the Chancery Court (Georgetown), and the Justice of the Peace Court (Georgetown), and is in the process of performing others.
Efforts to implement the U.S. Marshal recommendations are underway, with the New Castle County Courthouse (NCCCH), for example, focusing on installing the latest security technology (new mail screening equipment) and implementing policy recommendations, such as prohibiting cell phones in the NCCCH, restructuring access to detentioners’ holding cells, and enhanced screening of mail.
However, increased security comes at a “cost.” Security enhancements may impact the speed and ease with which court users conduct their business in the courthouse. With over 1,033,543 persons being screened and 2,441 arrests by the Capitol Police at the NCCCH in 2005, the potential for delays in screening and the overall impact of security is understandable.
In the upcoming months, NCCCH employees will be introduced to the newly approved fire/safety evacuation plan. Training on the plan for NCCCH court personnel is scheduled to begin in June 2006. Jim Wright, Deputy State Court Administrator (AOC), has been appointed as the NCCCH Fire/Safety Director and Lt. Lee Clough, from Capitol Police and Ed Pollard, Court Administrator (Court of Chancery) serve as Deputy Fire Safety Directors. Testing of the new fire safety plan and fire alarm evacuations will occur during 2006 and several times a year after that.
Other safety-related projects being worked on by the Administrative Office of the Courts include the development of continuity of operations plans, management of issues related to possible pandemic influenza outbreaks, and the offer of assistance to all courts in development of security plans and programs.