Federal bill takes aim at courthouse safety

Published 9:10 am Friday, May 25, 2012

A bill introduced by U.S. Sen. Al Franken aimed at improving courthouse safety is moving onto the Senate after clearing a committee Thursday.

Known as the Local Courthouse Safety Act, the bill was introduced in response to a December courthouse shooting in Cook County, in which a man is accused of bringing a gun into the courthouse and opening fire on a prosecutor, witness and bailiff.

The incident has brought increased awareness for courtroom safety across the state, and many counties, including Freeborn County, have since implemented heightened security measures.

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“Our local sheriffs, judges, and other court personnel, as well as the public, should be able to carry on business in our local courthouses knowing they are safe,” said Franken, D-Minneapolis, in a news release. “My legislation will give courthouses the resources they need to keep people safe, and I’m pleased that it will move to the Senate floor. I’ll continue fighting to make sure every Minnesotan’s day in court is safe.”

The law would address security concerns by providing local courts with access to security training and giving states authority to use existing grant money to improve courthouse security.

It would also give local courts access to excess federal security equipment, such as metal detectors and screening devices.

Officials stated the Cook County Courthouse did not have a metal detector on site at the time of the shooting, and the executive director of the Minnesota Sheriff’s Association estimated that most rural courthouses in the state have no metal detectors on site.

While Freeborn County is one county that does have metal detectors, Freeborn County Sheriff Bob Kindler said in March it was taxing on the department to implement random security screenings.

“We have to pull a person off the street, or otherwise arrange the schedule so we have manpower to do it,” he said.

This bill aims to alleviate that.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minneapolis, who is a co-sponsor of the bill, said Thursday’s action was good news for the bill.

“I will never forget the tragic courthouse shooting we had in the Hennepin County Government Center and our resulting prosecution and enhanced security measures,” she said. “The recent shooting at the Cook County Courthouse demonstrates that more needs to be done to keep local courthouses safe.”