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Courthouse Security measures continue to evolve

By Jill Penley

Deputy Andrew James mans the sole entrance to the Johnson County Courthouse and makes certain no weapons are brought inside. Photos by Jill Penley

Enhanced security measures are now in place at the Johnson County Courthouse, and law enforcement says the changes will better protect the public and employees. When courthouse, there’s a couple of things you’ll have to do. First, place all items into the container provided. Second, proceed through the metal detector. If a beeping sound is heard, it may be time for a pat down.
This new routine is due to the state legislature passing a new statute last year. Since the Tennessee Judicial Conference and the Tennessee General Sessions Judges Conference adopted new minimum courtroom security standards in 2018 to promote the security and safety of the members of the judiciary, court personnel, and the public, the Johnson County Courthouse has experienced several security upgrades.
“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 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,” said AOC Director Deborah Taylor Tate. “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.”
While a metal detector, which screened everyone for weapons, has been operational for well over
a decade at the entrance of the upstairs courtroom, this still left the building itself mostly unsecured.
One of the most visible changes made to courthouse security was the transition to a single entrance leading into the building. In the past, the building could be accessed by three doors, none of which were overseen by security. Now, all visitors to the courthouse enter through one entrance and are required to pass
through a manned security checkpoint complete with modern scanning equipment similar airport systems.
Once, the general public could merely walk into
the courthouse without any security checks through several entrances. But
that was before increasing violence at government structures, including schools, prompted a nationwide move to heighten security.
Increased security is always inconvenient, but it is necessary to provide a safe environment to all those who come to the courthouse — litigants, jurors, staff, and the public.