The Big Story Blog

Courthouse shooting a security 'wake up call'

Posted at 12:41 PM on December 16, 2011 by Paul Tosto
Filed under: Public Safety

The Cook County courthouse shootings are prompting a lot of conversations today about safety and security. Some who make their living in courthouses say it's a conservation that needs to happen right now.

"I will tell you that I am most of the time shocked by the lack of security in many of our courthouses. And I am shocked by a lack of consistency in security," said John D. Baker a Maplewood attorney who practices across the state.

I am not at all surprised that this unfortunate incident happen in Cook County. I am not saying that we need to create fortresses of our courthouses. But basic security screening and training can go a long way. That is not being done.
We reached out today to Baker and dozens of other Minnesotans in the MPR News Public Insight Network with ties to courts. Baker wrote us that the Cook County shooting has left the legal community here shaken.

He added:

Just this week I was in three courthouses in Dakota County. At the courthouse in Hastings I had to go through security and even take off my belt. But at the courthouses in Apple Valley and West St. Paul I could walk right in and right up to the judge with no security.

Since 9/11 security of any federal property in the U.S. and internationally is always at a high level. So it amazes me that there is virtually a complete lack of security at many of our courthouses in the state.

I also believe that there needs to be training provided for our attorneys that practice in the state on basic security for themselves and how to have situational awareness when they enter and leave courtrooms. Currently there are no continuing legal education classes offered on the topic. I also think that our court staff need to be trained on security awareness issues.

Burnsville attorney Patricia M. Buss does much of her work in Dakota County and raised similar concerns about the Apple Valley and W. St. Paul courthouses.

She recalled the security overhaul made in Hennepin County following the 2003 shooting of attorney Richard Hendrickson in the Hennepin County Government Center.

After that shooting, "the Hastings courthouse entry was modified to have a metal detector and a scanner to hopefully prevent dangerous weapons from being taken into the building. The Apple Valley and West St. Paul courthouses, however, have no security of any kind."

A substantial part of my caseload involves family court matters. I think if you ask most lawyers they would tell you the safety risks in family court matters are generally greater than those in criminal cases.

On several occasions I've seen people exhibit extreme anger and tantrum-like behavior at the courthouse. I personally think of the risks every time I walk into the courthouses - not necessarily for myself but in general for everyone in "the system" that day.
The Cook County shootings, Buss added, should be a "wake-up call to the state -- particularly the funders (legislature) who are hesitant to fund the judicial system...we need to secure our court facilities in greater Minnesota as much as we do in the Twin Cities."

About Paul Tosto

Paul Tosto

Paul Tosto writes the Big Story Blog for MPR News. He joined the newsroom in 2008 after more than 20 years reporting on education, politics and the economy for news wires and newspapers across the country.

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