The Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court has called on lawmakers and others to work together to ensure the safety of the state’s courtrooms. The Chief Justice’s call was based on a report from a task force created by the Iowa State Bar Association to examine courtroom safety.
Elizabeth Kennedy, co-chaired the task force and says there were two main recommendations. She says the suggest that points of entrance to courthouses have some sort of monitoring, with the type of monitoring left up to each individual courthouse administrators to decided. Kennedy says they also suggest that there be some sort of uniformed presence at the courthouse when court is in session. Kennedy says they don’t think every courthouse has to have the same monitoring system, as she says right now those that have the systems vary greatly in their approach.
Kennedy says some of the larger courthouses, like the one in Polk County, have sophisticated monitoring systems such as x-ray machines to detect firearms or other dangerous instruments. Kennedy says sheriff’s departments and police do a good job of working with the judicial branch when there are cases where extra security might be needed, but she says that’s not a guarantee any more that they’ll catch everything. She says, “We don’t always know I guess is the point I would always want to make, what situation would become volatile.”
Kennedy says in talking with the people in the courthouses every day, there are new realities that are impacting what happens there that the courts haven’t had in the past. She says there’s the increase in domestic violence cases, the increase in cases of people in the courtroom without the benefit of counsel, and she says the increase in methamphetamine related cases. Plus she says there’s an increase of people coming into the courtroom for various reasons who’re under the influence of meth.
Kennedy says she hopes the Chief Justice’s call and the attention his comments received lead to action in the form of some funding for security concerns. She says, “One does not want to be an alarmist, and at the same time I think we have to be realistic about the society in which we live. And recognize that around any corner we could be facing something awful like this. And better for us to be proactive and realistic and reactive, and says ‘gee whiz’ if only.” Kennedy says something as simple as having a uniformed officer in the courtroom could be enough to deter potential violence before it takes place.