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MERCER [County PA] – On the morning that single-point entry and security screening arrived at the Mercer County Courthouse, county Commissioner Matt McConnell made a grim assessment of the action. “The terrorists won,’’ he said. Source: Mercer Harold – Michael Roknick & Eric Poole

The public’s access to their courthouses may only be the first adverse consequence on the slippery slope caused by fear of armed attacks, the rising security costs, and relentless pressure to control or reduce budgets.

We monitor Google Alerts for courthouse security stories and we’re seeing the same outcomes across the country. Below are two examples of drastic choices that are being made daily in an effort to increase safety & security at courthouses.

“When [Mercer County Pennsylvania] employees, jurors, and visitors arrived at the courthouse Monday morning, they found only one entrance open, with a wait to go through an X-ray machine. Sheriff’s deputies searched bags and used wands to screen people who set off the detection device.” Source: Mercer Harold – Michael Roknick & Eric Poole

This news excerpt describes what’s next for Bennington County Vermont. “The court will now open 45 minutes later, and close an hour earlier than it once did, although officials say the reduced time will mostly affect the clerk’s window, not the court’s caseload. The change was mandated at the state level, following negotiations with the county sheriff’s office, which provides security for the court, and balked at continuing at the current rate of compensation.” Source: Strait Talk – Ellie French

These are just two examples from the past two weeks.

It was reported in Bennington that deputies for courthouse security will cost $28 per hour. Assuming 2 or 3 deputies are required and the annual cost could be $168,000.  Courts across the country are responding to risings expenses by limiting billable hours of security personnel posted at entrances & exits, and/or closing off access to the courthouse.  This does not have to be.

There are government-approved anti-terrorism technologies that are automatically controlling the entrances and exits to all sorts of facilities. Better still, these technologies can be leased or financed for pennies on the dollar which would dramatically reduce current security expenditures. It’s time for municipalities to catch on to what private industry and the federal government has been taking advantage of for more than 3 decades. Courthouses and access to them belong to the citizens. Give it back to them.

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