BALTIMORE (AP) — Guns, knives and other potential weapons keep Maryland courthouse security officers on alert, but now they also are on the lookout for cell phones — those cell phones that also take pictures.
Cameras are not allowed in Maryland courtrooms, so the proliferation of new portable devices with cameras means that visitors might have to leave their phones at the courthouse gate.
Enforcing the photography ban has meant more work at some courthouses than at others.
“More than a half-million people come here to the courthouse annually … and a majority of the people have cell phones,” said Baltimore County Sheriff R. Jay Fisher. “If it is a camera phone, we take it and put a little evidence tag on it, like checked baggage at the airport.
“You get some people who protest, but we try to be professional and tell them that recording devices are not allowed in the courtroom,” he said. “If they don’t surrender their phones, we ask them to leave.”
Officers collect camera phones in Towson and Baltimore city. But in Howard County, the phones must be taken out of the building.
In Anne Arundel County, the phones are allowed inside courtrooms, but deputies confiscate them if they catch people using them to talk or to take pictures.
In a rush, many people in Baltimore leave their camera phones at the guard’s desk if given the option.
“I guess we get about six of those camera phones a day,” said Maj. Ernest Hargrove, chief of security for the Baltimore City Sheriff’s Office. “Right now we have enough manpower to cover it, but with a lot of people buying these camera phones, it could become a problem storing them.”
Baltimore County courts are seeing an increasing number of camera phones, said Peggy Smith, security supervisor for the courts building.
From June 21 to June 27, deputies held 181 camera phones, she said.
Miss Smith said some people get upset about leaving their phones behind for fear that they might miss an important call. Security guards also examine hand-held computers and watches for hidden cameras, she said.
There are few exceptions to the camera rule, Miss Smith said, but one might be granted to people coming to the courthouse to get married.
Baltimore lawyer Kathleen McDonald said she was surprised when officers asked to examine her camera phone.
“I thought they wanted to make sure it wasn’t an explosive device or anything,” she said. “I’ve never taken a camera inside a courthouse before. It just never entered my mind.”