Municipal and state police officers have always been permitted to carry guns into the courthouse, but restricted from carrying them into the courtroom.
"They had to have them locked up if they were going to be in the courtroom," said longtime Fayette County Sheriff Gary Brownfield. "When they were finished, they came back and got them out of the safe."
In early February, with the approval of Fayette County Court of Common Pleas President Judge John F. Wagner and Senior Judge Gerald R. Solomon, all municipal and state police officers are now permitted to retain their weapons while in the courtroom.
The new measure was the recommendation of Brownfield to further secure the courthouse environment.
The officers must be Act 120 police training certified and have a restrained holster for the weapon. The restraining holster prohibits another person from removing the gun from the officer.
"I think it is great," he said of the new policy. "What better person would you want armed than a trained officer?"
Brownfield said that armed officers in full view of the general public in the courthouse will serve as a message to those who may try to enter the building with a weapon to do harm to a county employee, judge, visitor or those testifying in a court case, among others.
The courthouse is a hub of activity with visitors seeking passports from the prothonotary office, hunting and fishing licenses from the treasurer office or a copy of a property deed from the recorder of deeds office.
The district attorney, sheriff and juvenile probation offices are also located in the building and draw daily visitors.
Brownfield said that during criminal court week, when numerous cases are heard before the Common Pleas Court judges, upwards of 1,600 people go through the courthouse.
"There are a lot of people in this building at any given time, but especially during court week," he said.
Security officers are posted at the front visitor entrance and at an employee entrance in the basement. Visitors are not permitted to enter the main corridor without passing through a metal detector.
Detectors can be fallible, noted Brownfield, and technological advances are now allowing for the production of guns that resemble cell phones that might go unnoticed to an untrained eye.
"There are a lot of people out there that want to do harm," he said.
The sheriff's office is currently having the constables undergo training, so they too, can be armed while at the courthouse.
The added security comes on the heels of shootings throughout the country, said Brownfield.
"It is happening everywhere; in schools, theaters and in courthouses," said Brownfield.
Recently, a man involved in a paternity dispute opened fire in front of a South Carolina courthouse, wounding a woman and a man. A few days earlier, three people died, including the gunman in the lobby of a Delaware courthouse.
Brownfield is well aware of the dangers that can take place in a courthouse.
In 1974, then an off-duty state trooper, he walked into the courthouse to attend to personal business when he found himself in the midst of a shootout.
John R. Brown, 43, of Uniontown, was facing a lengthy prison sentence for the 1973 fatal stabbing of Donna Joanne Edenfield, 38, in a Cleveland Avenue home the two shared.
Brown had been freed on a $25,000 bond prior to the June 1974 trial in the matter.
According to newspaper accounts, Brown and his legal counsel, attorney William J. Duffield, had become engaged in a verbal argument in a conference room outside Courtroom 1 on the second floor of the building.
The men were arguing because Brown had come to the court hearing in an inebriated condition.
Two sheriffs were directed to take Brown to the county lock-up to sober up before his trial started.