SUPREME COURT, STATE OF TENNESSEE
The Tennessee Judicial Conference and the Tennessee General Sessions Judges
Conference have adopted new minimum courtroom security standards to promote the security and safety of the members of the judiciary, court personnel, and the public.
The standards were last updated in the 1990s.
In the past year, there have been at least three major security breaches in Tennessee courthouses, including a serious weapons incident.
The Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) began the process of modernizing courthouses statewide recently by awarding 66 Tennessee counties a total of $2 million to improve courthouse security. The AOC received 70 grant applications requesting $5,769,923 in funds during its 2017 Court Security Grant Program. The AOC has requested additional funds for courthouse security from the legislature in 2018.
“Improving courthouse security is a top priority,” said Judge John McLellan, chair of the TJC Court Security Committee. “Across the state, courthouses are pillars in many communities with residents coming and going daily to take care of business ranging from paying taxes to filing wills to reporting for jury duty. We need to constructively think about how we can effectively add a layer of security in a responsible and minimally intrusive manner.”
Before the grant program, nearly half of Tennessee counties did not meet the previous minimum standards while others had serious security deficiencies. For example, in many Tennessee courthouses, visitors could walk in one of multiple entrances without encountering any security measures, courtrooms lacked direct emergency communication to law enforcement, and there was often no secure way to transfer or house incarcerated defendants attending a court appointment.
“This grant program is a great example of all three branches of government working together to make our courthouses safer for the Tennesseans who utilize them every day. We want to thank the governor and General Assembly for appropriating the long-needed and much-warranted funds for courthouse security,” AOC Director Deborah Taylor Tate said. “Because of this support, we were able to not only bring courthouses up to minimum standards, but also make much needed upgrades and improvements to existing systems. We must ensure that the business of our courts and our citizens can be done safely and efficiently.”
The 2017 funds enabled the AOC to provide counties with more than 23 hand-held metal detectors, 22 x-ray machines, 25 walk-through metal detectors, 14 security training sessions, 18 bullet proof benches, 20 panic button systems, 12 access control lock systems, 13 video arraignment systems, and four sets of surveillance equipment.
The newly adopted standards add additional criteria and expand some of the previous criteria to include areas beyond courtroom where citizens often conduct business such as the court clerk’s space. The new, approved court security criteria include:
(1) Silent bench and court clerk’s public transaction counter panic button connected directly to the sheriff’s department or police department.
(2) A bullet-proof bench and court clerk work area in courtrooms.
(3) Availability of armed, uniformed guard (court officer) in each courtroom during court sessions.
(4) Court security training for court officers. Court security briefing on annual basis for judicial staff and courthouse personnel.
(5) Hand-held detectors (minimum of 2) and/or magnetometers in each county to assure the safety in each courthouse or courtroom.
(6) Each court building shall have signage posted at each court access entrance stating that all persons are subject to search by security personnel. Prohibited items are subject to seizure and forfeiture. Prohibited items include, but are not limited to, the following: firearms; other forms of weaponry; and any item(s) that can be transformed into a weapon.
(7) Hand held inspection security mirror to be used to view under courtroom seating and other areas for safety in the courthouse and/or courtroom(s).
The new standards were approved by a general sessions court committee and a committee representing state circuit, criminal, appellate judges. Members include, Tennessee Judges Conference (TJC) Court Security Committee: John McLellan – Chair, Tammy Harrington, Amy Hollars, Jim Kyle, Eddie Lauderback, Don Parish, Russ Parkes, John Wootten, Jr.; and Tennessee General
Sessions Judges Conference (TGSJC) Court Security Committee: Paul Conley, Danny Goodman, Michael Davis, Katerina Moore, and Floyd Rhea.