Budget cuts add to county's security woes
By Matthew Stolle
Monday's fatal shooting at the Hennepin County Government Center raised questions about security in the nation's courthouses.
Olmsted County Sheriff Steve Borchardt said the notion of courts as the "last bastions of conflict resolution" is yet another casualty in such incidents. If people are unable to go to the courts to resolve disputes in an environment that is safe, the credibility of the system is undermined, he said.
But even as courthouse security falls into doubt, Borchardt says the level of security at the Olmsted County Government Center is expected to decline.
The sheriff's department, which oversees courthouse security, plans to eliminate six positions. Some of those cuts will affect courthouse security, Borchardt said.
Borchardt said the county will continue to take all due precautions in those cases "where we know the risk is definite." But where the risk seems less certain, the department will have to take more chances.
"In those cases where we're not sure, we won't have the economic flexibility," he said. "We won't be as prone to err on the side of safety, because we won't have the staff."
The lobby and courtrooms at the courthouse are open places with generally light security, Borchardt said. Usually, a single deputy is assigned to the fifth and sixth floors, where court hearings are conducted, Borchardt said.
But in situations where a high profile case is perceived to have a greater risk of violence, courthouse security is heightened, usually by deploying a metal detector.
More stringent security measures would take more money, Borchardt said. "Everybody wants smaller government, and smaller government means less security."
Historically, the Olmsted County courthouse has been a safe place. Borchardt could recall only one incident in which someone brought a gun onto the courthouse floors and, in that case, it was a private detective.