Colorado Supreme Court
Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel
Promoting Professionalism. Protecting the Public.
Please Remove Your Belt
The reasons behind courthouse security and how Colorado addresses risk.
By LISA FRANKEL
Lawyers who frequent the state’s courthouses sometimes think security measures there seem inconvenient and unnecessary. But the numbers tell a different story. According to a 2013 report by the National Center for State Courts, violent incidents at courthouses across the country have risen every year for the last eight years. In 2005, 19 violent incidents occurred at the country’s courthouses. By 2012, that number had risen to 84 — an increase of 340 percent.
In Colorado, there are hundreds of felony arrests made at the state’s courthouses each year, according to Steven Steadman, Administrator for Judicial Security for the judicial branch. There are also hundreds of assaults and tens of thousands of contraband items found, ranging from the simplest pocket knife to firearms. Courts throughout the state receive a total of about two hundred significant threats a year to judicial officers, court staff and employees, and the facilities themselves.
So how does Colorado protect against such threats?
The Ralph L. Carr Judicial Center houses both the Colorado Supreme Court and Colorado Court of Appeals. The security system at the Judicial Center is state-of-the-art. It has an integrated access control and surveillance system. There are also passive security measures in place that are meant to deter inappropriate activity, including law-enforcement presence, cameras and panic alarms located throughout the building.
The goal at all of the state's courts is not to eliminate risk, but rather to manage it in order to save lives and prevent injury. One way of managing risk is through screening at the courthouses. Unless a person is actually an employee at a courthouse, he or she has to go through security. In fact, there are some high-profile cases where everybody, including judges, is screened.
It is not just members of the public who get flagged by security. Sometimes attorneys are the ones whose contraband is confiscated. More than one attorney has tried to enter a courthouse with a firearm, Mr. Steadman notes. But anything that can kill someone or be used as a weapon may be considered contraband, including things that can cut, stab, shoot or explode.
The average screening time is 15 seconds. At most courthouses, if attorneys have their bar card with them, security may screen them ahead of everyone else in line. Mr. Steadman requests that attorneys, as officers of the court, cooperate with the security process. Lawyers who have concerns about their screening experience, or who have observations as to enhancements in courthouse security, should contact him directly at (720) 625-5816 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lisa Frankel is an Assistant Regulation Counsel in the office’s intake division.