Delaware Courthouse Restricts Cell Phones to Improve Security

WILMINGTON, Del. -- Many people will soon be barred from bringing cell phones, personal digital assistants and similar equipment into the New Castle County Courthouse. Only attorneys, law enforcement personnel and court staff will be allowed to carry the devices in the courthouse after Nov. 1.

Court officials cite security and logistical reasons for the change.

Terrorists have used cell phones to detonate bombs and there have been reports of guns and knives hidden in cell phones, according to Lt. Lee Clough of the Capitol Police, which has jurisdiction over Delaware's courthouses.

Cell phone pose other problems in the courthouse. It's difficult for security officers to tell which phones include cameras or recorders, which are both already banned in Delaware's courtrooms. Also, trials have been interrupted or tainted by people in the gallery using cell phones.

In 2002, when the courthouse first opened, about 30 phones a month were taken and held by security officers. This year, the average has been about 2,600 a month, distracting officers from their primary duties, Clough said.

The ban applies only to the courthouse in Wilmington, but Clough said it may be expanded to state courthouses in Kent and Sussex counties.

People with cell phones will be directed to temporary lock-boxes in the parking garage. Officials expect there will be a 50-cent charge to use the small storage boxes. Also more pay phones and free service phones for local calls will be installed before Nov. 1.

Visitors to the courthouse who will be affected by the ban, however, expressed skepticism about the new policy.

Naasih Faheem, a bail bondsman, said he needs to stay in touch with his office and his clients. Without his phone, he said his job will be much more complicated.

"Is it really about security?" he asked.

It's unclear how many courthouses have banned cell phones. The U.S. District Court in Delaware has banned nearly all cell phones since 2000, while the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia allows them. Elsewhere in Philadelphia, state courts prohibit the public from bringing cell phones into court buildings.

(c) 2005 Associated Press