Circuit Judge Robert Holloway of Columbia, Tn., remembers the day an ex-Army Ranger, distraught over his impending divorce, was searched and found to be carrying a large knife. The Tennessean in Nashville says that incident, along with other scary moments, has convinced Holloway to spearhead an effort to increase security at the Maury County Courthouse. “If we’re going to continue to use the courthouse, we’re going to need to close off some of the entrances,” Holloway said. “And if we’re not going to have a metal detector at the door where you go in, then we’re not going to have security.”
Across Middle Tennessee, security at courthouses and judicial centers is as varied – and as spotty – as the court cases being heard within them. Some counties have state-of-the-art metal detectors, cameras, X-ray machines and security guards stationed in specially built justice centers. Others have no such equipment to keep guns, knives and other weapons out of the building. In one rural area, “courthouse security is almost non-existent,” said District Attorney General Mike Bottoms of the 22nd Judicial District. “It’s going to cost some money, and nobody in the last 20 years has been willing to spend any money on it.” A 1995 state law requires counties to form court security committees to assess the security needs of the county’s courtrooms to ensure they meet minimum security standards. Those include installing a silent panic button under the judge’s bench, connected directly to the sheriff’s department or police department; having a bulletproof bench; a uniformed court officer in each courtroom during court sessions; and a minimum of two hand-held metal detectors or magnetometers in each county. However, there’s no teeth in the law to make counties comply.