- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 20, 2005

SEATTLE (AP) — For years, lawyers and judges had worried about lax security at the downtown King County Courthouse. It took a triple homicide to get their concerns addressed.

Metal detectors went up the next day, and weapons were barred from the court buildings, except for those carried by law-enforcement and military personnel. Unarmed civilian screeners keep order alongside armed deputies.

Officials in Fulton County, Ga., now are starting a similar crackdown after the shooting of Judge Rowland Barnes and three others at an Atlanta courthouse.

“Whenever you have an incident like the one in Atlanta, every judge thinks about it,” said Washington Supreme Court Justice Charles Johnson. “They look around and start thinking about whether what has been done is enough.”

Justice Johnson served on a statewide court-security task force after the 1995 Seattle shootings, in which a man walked into the courthouse with a concealed semiautomatic pistol and used it to kill his estranged wife, who was pregnant, and two of her friends as they sat on a bench outside a courtroom.

“I think we have the best system possible, but what happened in Atlanta certainly could happen here today, next week or never,” said John Urquhart, spokesman for the King County Sheriff’s Office. “There’s always someone bigger and badder and stronger than a particular deputy.”

The Atlanta shootings have court officials across the country evaluating security measures, from metal detectors to the availability of guards.

There is no clear, nationwide picture of what measures have been taken to secure courthouses. Security in federal courts is handled by a single agency, the U.S. Marshals Service, but security measures vary widely at the state and local levels.

The National Center for State Courts in Virginia has received a $100,000 Department of Justice grant to hold a court-security summit with state Supreme Court justices next month.

“You don’t want to feel that the people in Atlanta died without at least using that to say we’ve learned from it,” said Mary McQueen, president of the courts center and the former Washington state courts administrator.

In Georgia, deputies at the Fulton County Courthouse use metal detectors to prevent the general public from bringing in weapons; court officers, however, are allowed to carry guns into the courthouse. The Atlanta shooter stole a weapon from a deputy.

Immediately after the March 11 shootings, Fulton County boosted security, adding 40 uniformed deputies and announcing that high-risk inmates will be transported separately, accompanied by specially trained officers.

Florida made similar efforts after three courthouse killings in the late 1970s and early ‘80s. Now, all visitors are screened by metal detectors.

In Miami-Dade County, bailiffs and corrections guards aren’t armed; instead, armed police officers with special training guard each building, said Jill Beach, spokeswoman for the local 11th Circuit Court

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