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Recorder in the court.

THE VERDICTS "GUILTY" AND "NOT GUILTY" ECHO THROUGH THE GRANITE HALLS each day as people come before the court for judgment. * Opened in 1936, the US Courthouse at Foley Square in New York City is one of the largest courthouses in the United States. It has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated as a New York City landmark. It was the last building designed by renowned architect Cass W. Gilbert, who also designed the Supreme Court in Washington, DC, and New York City's Woolworth Building. * A dedicated security force and high-quality closed-circuit video equipment help secure the 200,000-square-foot, 33-story building, which has more than a million people--from federal judges to friends of defendants--pass through its entrances each year. On an average day, 15 trials are in session, some days as many as 21. * This lower-Manhattan courthouse has been the site of many high-profile trials involving such well-known people and organizations as John Gotti, Imelda Marcos, Leona Helmsley, and the National Football League. Those highly sensitive and publicized judicial proceedings create a volatile and potentially dangerous environment. * The US Marshals Service (USMS), the nation's oldest law enforcement agency, is responsible for maintaining security and ensuring courtroom decorum at the Foley Square courthouse. Deputies of the USMS serve as officers of the court in 94 judicial districts and as law enforcement agents for the executive branch. * The war on drugs, combined with the publicity generated by such matters as tax evasion, school desegregation, property seizures, and bankruptcy have made security problems more complex and increased the potential for courthouse violence. With the dramatic increase in the number of threats against members of the judiciary, US attorneys, and other court officers, the USMS provides round-the-clock personal protection for many court officers.

"Federal judges are under constant threats--be it by phone, written, or word of mouth. For example, in 1980 48 threats were made to federal judges; more than 600 judicial threats have been made in 1991--a 1,200 percent increase since 1980," says Marshal Romolo J. Imundi, who has been a US Marshal since 1982. "Built more than 50 years ago, the courthouse was never designed to handle the current volume of trials. It places tremendous demands on our security officers."

The USMS supervises court security officers (CSOs), who provide protective services for the federal judiciary in the courtrooms, at building entrances, and at other facilities used by judges and other officers of the court. The primary mission of the CSOs is to protect the perimeter of courtrooms and adjacent areas to prevent the unlawful introduction of weapons or other dangerous devices.

As an aid to that mission, 88 black-and-white charge-coupled device (CCD) Panasonic cameras and more than 55 9-inch Panasonic monitors were recently installed in the Foley Square courthouse. The CCTV equipment allows the CSOs to maintain a low profile while ensuring the safety of the judicial system and its participants at the courthouse.

People entering the courthouse must walk through a magnetometer (metal detector); briefcases, packages, and incoming mail are x-rayed; and tape recorders and cameras are examined. A CCD camera is positioned above the entrances, so CSOs in the security command center can view traffic into the building and respond quickly to any disturbance that may occur.

"We are concerned with people trying to illegally smuggle firearms and contraband into the building," says Imundi. "The only people that are authorized to carry guns are the marshals and the CSOs."

In the recent upgrade of the courthouse's security system, CCD cameras replaced vidicon tube cameras. The new cameras are positioned in every lobby where elevators give access to courtrooms and in waiting areas that serve as courtroom entrances.

"It's important to keep an eye out for possible confrontations between the defendant's family and friends on one side and witnesses on the other. People coming into the courthouse have time to conspire against others," says Imundi. "The cameras allow us to keep a close watch. And their capabilities are a great advantage."

Because the courthouse has many exits, they cannot all be guarded by security personnel, notes Jim Meehan, quality assurance representative for the USMS court security program of Mosler Inc., through which the new cameras were installed. "The security system had to take into account someone trying to gain entrance to the building through an exit door," Meehan adds. "The system was designed with a camera, and sometimes two cameras, positioned at each exit door."

Each exit door bears a contact. If a person tries to gain illegal access, an alarm is set off, the camera is automatically pulled up on a monitor in the control room, and a time-lapse recorder begins videotaping.

CCD cameras are also positioned where money is exchanged (at the cashier windows in the bankruptcy clerk's and district clerk's offices) and at the exit that empties into the subway. Cashiers in both offices have easy access to distress devices (panic buttons), which set off an alarm and start a time-lapse videotape recorder.

To combat security threats and make judges feel more secure, each of the courthouse's 80 judges is entitled to an entry-control system in his or her chambers. The system starts with a camera positioned outside the door to a judge's chambers. Images from that camera appear on a 9-inch monitor at the secretary's desk inside the judge's chambers.

To gain entry, a visitor pushes a button outside the chambers. Via the camera and intercom, the secretary can see and speak to the person. The secretary can then either release the door lock or, in a threatening situation, push a distress device that sets off an alarm in the security command center and starts a time-lapse videotape recorder. CSOs view events in real time on a monitor in the five-bay command center, evaluate the situation, and respond accordingly.

The new CCTV system, Meehan notes, allows tailored response to alarms by enabling the CSOs to view the cause for alarm as the response team is en route.

The landmark status of the 56-year-old federal courthouse complicated the installation of the CCTV equipment. In all public areas, no open or surface-mounted wiring was allowed. Installers hid the wiring for the courtroom lobby cameras by mounting the cameras at the electrical closet wall. A hole for cable was drilled into the closet and the wall mount placed over the hole.

The cameras that send their video back to the first-floor security console are all powered from the same electrical phase as the matrix video system at the console to eliminate roll and ground-loop problems. When cameras and monitors do not share the same ground, hum and video distortion can result.

IN THE COURTHOUSE, THREE LARGE ceremonial courtrooms have been designated for high-profile, high-risk trials. The special courtrooms are equipped with three cameras: in the back, at the judge's side, and behind the jury box. The matrix switcher in the command center switches between high-risk trials and other key security locations.

"The bigger the defendant's profile, the bigger the security problems," says Imundi. "We are not super sleuths; the key is to have a game plan. We do not presume or assume anything in securing the courthouse."

During a trial, if a defendant becomes unruly and needs to be removed from the special courtroom he or she is taken to a holding cell directly behind the courtroom. That cell is equipped with a 19-inch monitor and an intercom. Thus the defendant can view the proceedings on the monitor and privately consult with his or her attorney via intercom.

In the past, defendants have successfully appealed convictions on the grounds that they were removed from the courtroom and not allowed to see and hear legal proceedings. The Sixth Amendment of the Constitution gives a defendant the right to be confronted with the witnesses against him.

"We were in a Catch-22 situation--the defendant has the right to face his accusers; however, the trial must proceed in an orderly manner. Judges are reluctant to let a trial continue when the defendant is not present," Imundi observes. "The special holding cells alleviate this problem."

Other security measures in the courthouse include distress devices in the judge's box and on the court clerk's desk. Those devices are used to set off alarms when a threat arises, a disturbance takes place, or someone becomes ill.

"The security system with the Panasonic equipment makes our job a lot easier," says Imundi. "Before the upgrade, we just had a distress alarm system--300 alarms throughout the building. If someone pushed an alarm, we knew there was a problem, but we couldn't tell how serious it was. Now we can.

"We have a tighter, more controlled security system that ties up a lot of loose ends," Imundi explains. "The equipment runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week without problems."

Plans are underway to expand the command center to accommodate security requirements at a new federal courthouse around the corner from Foley Square. Officials have broken ground for a 34-story courthouse that is scheduled to open in 1994.

The security system was designed to be flexible enough to house the command center for the new courthouse. "A centralized command center for both courthouses will provide big advantages," Imundi notes.

Also planned for the Foley Square courthouse is an upgrade of the CCTV equipment throughout the prisoner handling area. That upgrade will involve replacing obsolete equipment with new CCD equipment.

"Because the new security system was such a dramatic change from what the courthouse had," Meehan explains, "the intent was to allow the Marshals Service to use its new system for a period of time, review its performance, make recommendations to close any holes, and then upgrade the system."

The court security committee of the Southern District of New York will meet soon to review recommendations for upgrading the system and then seek funding for the upgrade.


COURTROOMS ARE NOTED FOR their somber decorum, but anytime people risk life, liberty, love, or money, tempers are sure to flare.

Being deep in the sanctum of lawfulness does not stop mobsters or angry spouses from threatening violence or carrying it out. Victims include plaintiffs, defendants, lawyers, judges, bailiffs, and security officers. Recent incidents across the country highlight the rise in courtroom violence:

* On May 5 in a St. Louis courtroom, a man pulled out two pistols during his divorce proceeding. He fatally shot his wife and wounded her two lawyers, a bailiff, and a security officer.

* The same day in a Grand Forks, ND, courtroom, a man accused of failing to pay child support shot the presiding judge.

* In March in New York City, the judge in the John Gotti racketeering trial filled the front of his courtroom with FBI agents in response to bomb threats he said he had received.

* On March 9 in a courthouse hallway in Milwaukee, a woman was approaching the room where she planned to request a two-year injunction against her former live-in companion. Before she reached the room, the man stabbed her to death.

* On January 7 in Cleveland, OH in the Cuyahoga County Courthouse Family Concilation Services Office, a man killed his estranged wife and brother-in-law.

* July 1 in the Fort Worth, TX, Tarrant County Courthouse, a man shooting from the spectators gallery killed two attorneys and wounded others, including two judges.

Three of the courthouses in which the killings occurred lacked metal detectors at their entrances, and two of those courthouses had no electronic security systems at all.

Jim Wickizer is public relations administrator for the Panasonic Broadcast & Television Systems Company in Secaucus, NJ.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Society for Industrial Security
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Title Annotation:includes related article
Author:Wickizer, Jim
Publication:Security Management
Date:Aug 1, 1992
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