Tennessee Adopts New Security Standards for Courthouses

Tennessee Adopts New Security Standards for Courthouses

For the first time in two decades, Tennessee is boosting security standards for courthouses across the state.

Three serious security breaches at courthouses in Tennessee has prompted the state to boost security standards for the first time in twenty years.

The security breaches include an event in which an inmate shot two deputies at a courthouse in Coffee County. The inmate was able to wrestle a firearm away from one of the deputies and wound both of them before fleeing and fatally shooting himself about two blocks from the courthouse.

"To go home at the end of each day is one of the things that they taught you from the day you entered the police academy; you're going to go home at 5 o'clock," Washington County Tenn. Sheriff's Office Capt. Greg Matherly said. "We want everyone here to go home at 5 o'clock."

A grant of $2 million is being divided among 66 counties in Tennessee, meaning each county will receive just over $30,000 to boost their security measures.

"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.

The new, approved court security criteria include:

  • Silent bench and court clerk's public transaction counter panic button connected directly to the sheriff's department or police department.
  • A bullet-proof bench and court clerk work area in courtrooms.
  • Availability of armed, uniformed guard (court officer) in each courtroom during court sessions.
  • Court security training for court officers. Court security briefing on annual basis for judicial staff and courthouse personnel.
  • Hand-held detectors (minimum of 2) and/or magnetometers in each county to assure the safety in each courthouse or courtroom.
  • 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.
  • 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).

About the Author

Sydny Shepard is the Executive Editor of Campus Security & Life Safety.

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