TECHNOLOGY IN THE COURTHOUSE
Columbia Southern University
There are three basic elements of physical security: control & monitor the access of people and vehicles; detect & prevent any unauthorized intrusions (both physical and cyber); and to safeguard buildings, people, and assets (Jones, 2003). A courthouse should have several rings of security starting as far out as the parking lot and working its way inside the facility. These rings of security often include physical barriers that include doorways, walls, windows, parking structures, and fences to name a few. They also include metal detectors, x-ray machines, and hand-held screening devices. The use of technology in courtrooms has come a long way in recent years. Most employ the use of CCTV (Closed-Circuit Television), proxy-card scanners, fingerprint stations, and computers to provide immediate access to records, photos, and credentials. In some areas, the use of facial-recognition software and chemical screening is done as well.
Most local courthouses handle municipal cases, civil actions, family law, and traffic court. For higher level offenders, county judicial centers are normally located near county jails. As a general rule, county jails house those awaiting trial and those convicted of crimes with sentences of no more than one year. Recently in California however, the state enacted several changes and rules that allow for more serious criminals to be housed in these county jails; some for several years and for serious offenses such as murder (County of Orange California, 2015). This has caused a great strain of these smaller county jails as they were not designed to house the same classifications of criminals as their larger state prison counterparts. The use of CCTV and other technology has increased ten-fold in California because of these changes.
Technology and the use of CCTV are not without limitations and pitfalls. Both can be very expensive to set-up and maintain (Jones, 2003). CCTV cameras can only see what they are pointed at and the use of additional cameras, at a higher cost, is often needed when dead zones are realized. While video documentation and the freeing of manpower needed to secure an area are advantages with the utilization of CCTV systems, these cameras still require staff to diligently monitor them. They can be extremely valuable in liability claims and many departments are even utilizing body-worn cameras on staff members to defend cases of excessive force and credibility. Remote viewing allows for emergency response to real-time incidents and two-way communication between the operator and those within view of the camera (Jones, 2003).
While there are additional security measures at the larger facility for obvious reasons, local courthouses also maintain several layers of security designed to keep everyone safe.
Fences represent one of the oldest forms of physical security and there are often several types at county facilities. This fencing can be monitored via cameras and other technology. The fencing that is connected to detainee loading & unloading zones also has barbed wire on top so as to prevent people from climbing it. Automated gates can be activated from central control stations, remote controls, or by card-keys. Each card-key is embedded with software that allows or denies its use at specific points depending on access permissions. The parking lots of these facilities are often separated by grassy areas that have large decorative boulders. These boulders or decorative items act as protection from vehicular attacks and restrict access to areas by design (Griebel & Phillips, 2001).
Once inside these buildings, trained staff members monitor the metal detectors and x-ray devices. There are different public & staff entry points and exits. CCTV monitors the entire campus and that video is also recorded to DVR. Places where the public may congregate are away from locking courtroom doors and windows. Hallways can be designed to allow for people to walk, but not stop and talk in certain areas. Detainees are housed in protective wings and are afforded with additional security measures such as reinforced doorways, barred windows, and locked HVAC ducts. There are one-way windows in some doorways preventing suspects from seeing in or out (Griebel & Phillips, 2001). In general, local courthouses maintain much of not most of the same security measures and physical barriers as its larger counterpart, the judicial centers. In courtrooms, smaller four-foot barrier walls are often present to separate the different groups of people who may be in there (Jones, 2003). Some of these groups include court staff, judges, witnesses, attorneys, detainees, and spectators.
The use of metal detectors, both hand-held & walk-thru, are an effective way of keeping weapons and other contraband out of courthouses. Not only do they catch hidden items that can be used as weapons, they are placed in areas where everyone can see them prior to entering the building. This allows for an effective way of reducing the chance of someone attempting to bring any of the prohibited items in the first place. With the increased use of technology and the reduction of costs associated with it, courthouses have become safer than they were years ago. As a staple of our democratic society, these places of justice are important to the fabric of our way of life and must be protected.
County of Orange California (2015). AB109 Offenders: Are current probation strategies effective? Retrieved from: http://www.ocgrandjury.org/pdfs/2014_2015_GJreport/AB109_Offenders_Website.pdf
Michael Griebel, & Todd S. Phillips. (2001). Architectural Design for Security in Courthouse Facilities. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. Retrieved from: http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.libraryresources.columbiasouthern.edu/eds/detail/detail?http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.libraryresources.columbiasouthern.edu/eds/detail/detail?
Jones, T. L. (2003). Court security: a guide for post 9-11 environments. Springfield, IL: C.C.
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