In a Minnesota courthouse on Dec. 15, a man with a handgun opened fire, wounding a county attorney and a bystander. Just over a week ago in Middletown, N.Y., a man walked into another courthouse and began blasting with a shotgun, stopping only when security officers shot back, killing him.
Violence of this sort may be relatively rare, but it merits close attention. The legal system can be a source of frustration for those who find themselves tangled within it. Courts can become the focus of the obsessions of the mentally ill, whether they are brought in on charges or not. And the terrible rages that surround domestic violence can lead to dangerous confrontations.
Security officers assigned to the halls of justice must be vigilant and sharp-eyed as defendants, litigants, attorneys, and spectators stream past each day. According to a think tank concerned with judicial safety, there has been a 40-year trend in the United States of increasing attacks on judges and in courtrooms. The need for security is bolstered by the fact that guns are found in approximately one-third of all households in this country. Tragedies such as the ones seen seen in Minnesota and upstate may never be duplicated here, but no expense should be spared to be sure they won’t.
Before the new East Hampton Town courthouse was built, cases were heard in the same building as the offices of the town clerk, supervisor, board members, and others, with the public coming and going through two unsecured entrances. Until recently, East Hampton Town Justice Court was held in a building for which metal detectors had been ordered but never installed. The money for the personnel needed to staff them was finally included in a recent town budget. These recent incidents underscore our belief that money on security is well spent.