‘We’re raising a red flag’: Survey finds security woefully lacking in Washington state’s courthouses

More than 20 of the state’s 39 county courthouses don’t screen visitors for weapons, and about a third of those that do check for weapons don’t carry out such screenings at all public entrances, according to a survey conducted by a judges’ group.

Washington state’s county courthouses are woefully lacking in safety protocols, equipment and trained personnel at a time when security incidents are on the rise at courthouses nationally, a new statewide survey has found.

The survey, conducted by the Washington Superior Court Judges’ Association, found that more than 20 of Washington’s 39 county courthouses don’t even screen visitors for weapons, and about a third of those that do check for weapons don’t carry out such screenings at all public entrances.

Other key findings show courthouse employees are largely undertrained to handle emergency situations; that many courthouses don’t have adequate reporting mechanisms to help document and track security problems; and that state funding for courthouse security is nonexistent.

According to a recent national study, Washington ranked eighth in the nation for the most documented courthouse security incidents from 2005 to 2012.

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King County Superior Court Judge Sean P. O’Donnell, president of the judges’ association that conducted the survey, said he plans to share the findings with county and state lawmakers to highlight the glaring security needs at Washington’s superior courts.

“We’re raising a red flag,” O’Donnell said. “My hope is that legislators, county executives and county councils will look at this and say, ‘Hey, there’s a systemic problem here that we need to address.’ ”

Last year, Washington’s Supreme Court adopted a new court rule requiring presiding judges of state courts to develop security plans and take other measures to ensure courthouse safety. That prompted the judges’ group to distribute the 53-question survey last summer, O’Donnell said. Judges, court administrators, clerks or other personnel representing all 39 county courthouses participated.

The results identified “the paramount security issue facing Washington’s superior courts” as the lack of “adequate weapons screenings at public entrances.”

At one unidentified superior court with screenings in place, security personnel stopped 1,711 knives and 127 guns from being brought into the…

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