Courthouse Security

Courthouse security has been increased since events such as the Oklahoma City bombing of a federal court building and the tragedy of September 11, 2001, which destroyed the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. The goals of enhanced security are to assure the safety of people and property in the courthouse and to preserve the integrity of the judicial process. To meet these goals, reasonably safe courthouses must be provided, measures have to be taken to safeguard court records, and a plan must be adopted that would permit the court system to function after an emergency.

Courthouse Design

Architectural features can enhance the security of a courthouse and reduce the opportunity for acts of terrorism or violence. Concrete security barriers can be set up outside the courthouse to prevent close access to the building. Controlled access to the courthouse can be achieved by permitting only one public entrance to the building. In that way, all people entering the building can be screened. No public parking should be permitted under or in the courthouse. Secure parking should be provided, with access for judges and court personnel only. Shatter resistant glass can be used in a building to reduce the likelihood of injuries.

Security Personnel

The United States Marshals Service provides security inside federal courthouses. Generally, local law enforcement agencies provide security personnel for state courts. Some courts hire private security companies.

Security Technology

Surveillance technology is used in courthouses, including closed-circuit television monitoring and videotaping. Metal detectors and X-ray equipment are used to screen for weapons, and some courthouses have devices in place to detect explosives. Packages arriving at the courthouse are screened. Photographic identification systems have been adopted to control access to courthouses.

Data Security

Procedures are being adopted to protect the integrity of official records and data in all courts. Policies and guidelines are being developed to secure electronic court records from hacking, alteration, and computer viruses. Plans are being implemented to avoid the risk of loss if a natural disaster or act of terrorism strikes a courthouse.

Security and Disaster Recovery Plans

Some courts have adopted a formal court security plan, which includes evacuation routes and meeting places. The plans detail procedures to be followed in emergency situations and outline actions to be taken in case of bomb threats or if suspicious packages are found.

Weapons and Other Items Banned from Courthouses

Courts can establish a local rule as to whether any weapons are permitted in court facilities. For example, in a Washington State county, only duly commissioned law enforcement officers are allowed to carry a weapon of any kind on the floor that houses the court. Some courthouses ban certain articles, such as knives, scissors, and flammable sprays, from the courthouse.