In keeping with this month's theme of Homeland Security as well as our cover focus, securing America's courts, I reached out to some experts on court security: Lt. Andrew Wender, with the NY State Court Officers Academy, and Robert Connolly, retired Captain of the NY State Courts and current Nassau County Police Officer. Both men shared valuable insights with me.
Harlick: When assessing the security and safety of a court room, what are the most important locations to address?
Connolly: Points of entry. For example, doors and windows must be looked at from every angle. Can they easily be secured in the event that a lockdown is needed? Can they be compromised? Can we tell if someone has entered the courtroom in our absence?
Wender: It should be noted that proceedings are open to the public, so even if it is determined that a courtroom is safe prior to cases being called and prisoners being produced, all officers must remain diligent and be mindful of the fact that a member of the general public, and more specifically of a defendant's family, can enter at any time.
Harlick: What special needs or security measures are taken to secure the safety of the judge and jury?
Connolly: Courtrooms are designed with physical barriers to prevent a defendant's access to judge and jury. In addition, tables are usually bolted to the floor to prevent them from being overturned. In most courtrooms a separate entrance is provided for the judge and jury so that they do not need to pass the public area.
Harlick: What can a security integrator do to become more of an asset to you when deciding what products to use and how to implement them?
Connolly: First off, devices need to be durable and simple to use. A good example is the hand scanner, one button use with no “bells and whistles.” X-ray machines are critical pieces of equipment; however, they have dozens of features which honestly confuse a majority of the officers. As a result, they either ignore them or use them ineffectively. Training and support are essential for any new products.
Harlick: What are some of your major concerns about ensuring security? In other words, what keeps you up at night?
Connolly: Equipment is only as good as the operator, and unfortunately, the human element is difficult to control. The fact that the courts are doing a good job actually works against them. Complacency sets in and the attitude becomes: “Not here, not in our building.” It is important for manufacturers, venders and integrators to provide information on the deterrent value as well as real world cases where the technology has protected officers and pinpointed criminal activity. This information can then be incorporated into training which helps to maintain officers' competence and rejuvenate some of their spirit.
I would like to thank both Connolly and Wender for answering my questions and for their dedication to securing our homeland.