Court Security Task Force Issues Report
In March 2005, in the wake of a rash of courthouse violence in other states, Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye and Chief Administrative Judge Jonathan Lippman convened a Task Force on Court Security to conduct a top-to-bottom review of courthouse security in New York State. Co-chaired by Administrative Director Lawrence Marks and Chief of Operations Ronald Younkins, the Task Force issued its report this fall. After examining every aspect of court security — including training, equipment, prisoner transport and protection procedures, facility design, emergency preparedness planning and threat assessment — the Task Force found it to be comprehensive and effective. The Task Force also identified a number of specific areas in which security could be enhanced.
Chief among the Task Force’s recommendations are proposals designed to ensure greater uniformity in security protocols throughout the state. The absence of a uniform protocol is due to the fact that, depending on location, responsibility for courthouse security rests on different government entities. In some parts of the state, the judiciary’s own officers provide security, while in other parts security is provided by the county sheriff or city police department pursuant to contract with the court system. In the justice courts, the town or village government determines what, if any, security is provided. Recognizing the value of standard protocols and the existence of threats in every court-type and level, the Task Force proposed a number of steps to encourage uniformity of security practices, regardless of what entity provides security, as well as adoption of best practices in areas ranging from entry-screening to equipment to methods of securing and escorting criminal defendants.
The Task Force also recommended reforms in training and deployment. The reforms include increasing initial court officer training from 10 to 14 weeks, developing a new state-of-the-art residential court officer academy and developing protocols for redeployment of uniformed officers to promptly rectify staffing imbalances between courts.
In the area of physical infrastructure, the Task Force proposed updates to court design standards to “harden” courts against preventable risks and developed an assessment tool for identifying security weaknesses in existing courthouses. Among the issues addressed are “set-backs” and other courthouse perimeter issues, circulation patterns within courthouses, duress alarms, bullet-resistant shielding and blast-proof windows, emergency generators, networked digital security cameras, and special issues relating to the location and design of mail rooms.
The report also proposes legislative and budgetary initiatives to assure needed resources and fill gaps in state law, including funding for upgrades in security infrastructure and equipment and expansion of the Justice Court Assistance Program to subsidize security enhancements in the Town and Village Justice Courts. Beyond funding, the report urges legislative authorization for continued and expanded use of “electronic appearances” in criminal cases to reduce inherently dangerous prisoner transportation between courts and jails, and legislation to enhance penalties for crimes committed against judges and nonjudicial employees with intent to influence, impede or seek retribution for official judicial proceedings. The report is available at www.nycourts.gov/reports.
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