The shooting incident that occurred at the Cook County Courthouse in Grand Marais in December has caused officials from around the state to question security in their respective courthouses. Many counties, including Blue Earth County, are reviewing their courthouse security measures in light of the Cook County incident. The issue of safety in courthouses is a complex issue to which there are no easy answers.
Judges and court staff are state employees. By law, each county is responsible for providing adequate facilities for the judges and court staff. In rural county seats, the courthouse is often a historic building occupying a prominent location in the town. Each county's governing body and ultimately its citizens are responsible for paying for the maintenance, improvements, and security for their courthouse. It goes without saying that there is a bit of tension between the judges and court staff and the county board when it comes to the issue of safety in the courthouse. Unfortunately, and not surprisingly, the type and amount of security in any one courthouse often becomes an issue of cost and not personal safety.
There have been many articles and commentaries in the media about courthouse security since the Cook County incident. While the incidence of violence in courthouses is thankfully rare, it does happen. Unfortunately, more often than not, security measures are not put into place until after an incident has occurred. Needless to say, that is too late.
Judge Kurt D. Johnson
Most people who appear in court do not want to be there. More than likely a judge or jury will make a decision that someone will not like. No one can predict how people will react.
Generally, I am not worried about criminal defendants. If they are in jail they do not have any weapons. If they are not in jail, they voluntarily show up for court and most often have an attorney who represents them. In Blue Earth County we have an armed bailiff in each courtroom whenever court is in session. The people I am most concerned about are those involved in a divorce, child custody dispute or domestic situation of some kind. In those cases, people are often very angry with one another and frustrated by an unfamiliar legal system. For better or worse, the judge may make a life changing decision that will cause one party pain. It is times like these when people react, sometimes violently.
We have a number of safety measures here at the Blue Earth County Justice Center. Are they adequate? Who knows? Unfortunately, until a violent incident occurs we do not knowand then it might be too late. While I am concerned about my personal safety, I am most concerned about the safety of our staff and the people who use the Justice Center each day. Therefore it is important that we all remain vigilant and that governing bodies continue to review and address the security policies, procedures and equipment in our courthouses with a goal of protecting all people who enter the building.