Court Security

Security Concerns

Contact Us

Have more questions? Please email Paula Hannaford-Agor or call her at (757) 259-1556.

In some courts, there may be a court security manager who is employed by the court and would be the obvious choice to fulfill the duties of the court security role.  However, some jurisdictions use deputies of the local sheriff’s departments or have another relationship with local law enforcement. In those jurisdictions, care should be taken to select someone whose allegiance will be primarily to the needs of the court. If a local enforcement officer is selected, it needs to be someone with enough rank or other apparent authority to fully effectuate plans and adjustments of plans, both for the courthouse and the surrounding area. The surrounding area includes both ground space and air space.  

Ensuring the physical safety of anyone who visits the courthouse is a chief concern for court security. 

  • With the assistance of the high-profile team, evaluate the physical security both inside the courthouse and in the immediately surrounding area, and plan accordingly.
    • Consider the building's physical plan and where in the building various actors (and media public, witnesses, attorneys) will go to ensure their safety. 
    • Consider whether additions or changes must be made to the courthouse and outside of the courthouse for appropriate physical security (e.g. metal detectors, barricades, barriers for queuing management). 
    • Review current emergency evacuation plans and make sure they will still be sufficient with the additional expected traffic to the court. Consider if other plans should be created for possible threats.
    • Assess all security measures in place immediately surrounding the courthouse and determine whether temporary barriers to impede vehicle or foot traffic are necessary given the nature of the case.
    • As necessary, develop a working relationship with law enforcement agencies and personnel who have jurisdiction over the exterior of the courthouse and the immediately surrounding areas.  Communicate any concerns about security risks and request details about plans to address those concerns. 
    • Include airspace above and around the courthouse as part of the security assessment.  Develop a plan for addressing potential security threats from drones.
    • Determine whether it is necessary to sweep for bombs in the courtroom or the courthouse, and if so, the frequency for those sweeps.
    • Consider whether the court's electronic devices policy could have an effect on physical security.
    • Estimated the number of media and public spectators that are likely to enter the courthouse to observe proceedings and secure a sufficient number of court security officers and devices (e.g., metal detectors, wands, x-ray machines) to expedite screening during times of especially high volume.  If necessary, obtain stanchion posts and rope to delineate entrance queues.
    • Immediately before and during court hearings, monitor social media for references to the high-profile case to learn about protests or other potential security risks.
  • Consider the size and location of the courtroom.  It should be large enough to accommodate the number of participants and security personnel, but not so large that it would be conducive to disruptions by spectators.  If the trial judge’s regular courtroom will not be large enough or sufficiently secure, an alternate courtroom should be selected that meets the necessary requirements. 
    • Determine whether offices, courtrooms, or other rooms located on the floors directly above, below, and adjacent to the proposed courtroom present a security hazard.
    • In a case involving very high security, consider whether buildings or other structures with windows facing the courtroom might pose a potential security threat.
    • Assess the extent to adjacent courtroom security on the floor.  If possible, seal off the corridor with barricades or barriers as a checkpoint to inspect access credentials for persons entering the courtroom.  Ensure that security procedures do not unduly interfere with access to other courtrooms or offices in the immediate vicinity.
  • Determine if credentialing (a badge or lanyard strategy) all individuals attending the trial, or if the media alone will be need to be. If so, determine what method of credentialing will be used. Issuing credentials is a common practice in high-profile trials that can help control access, increase security, limit access to specific areas, and insure that the media reports to the court in a timely fashion. This will involve working closely with the PIO. 
    • The initial decision that needs to be made is if passes will be issued, and if so, on a permanent or day-to-day basis? Permanent passes allow passes to be issued that will last the duration of the trial. 
    • Passes can also be organized to better assist with security, and different high-profile trials have had success with a variety of organizational methods for press passes. Issuing differential press passes allows the court to control who is permitted access to what facilities (example: granting access to the courtroom, press room, and courthouse compared to granting access only to the courthouse) and has been found to be an extremely useful technique in cases where court security is a particular concern. Another system involves color coding the passes (example: for press, family members, witnesses).
  • Consider if changes will need to be made to the court's existing firearm policy, or if a firearm policy will need to be put in place.  

  • Ensure that everyone is screened as they enter the court. Screening everyone that enters the courthouse is a generally accepted practice and helps to ensure the safety of everyone within the court's facilities. Jurors, witnesses, the judge, attorneys, and parties should be searched/scanned in the same manner as any other visitor to the courthouse. 

The increased demands on courthouse security during a high-profile case often require temporarily hiring additional staff. Often it is not the courts that provide security for the courthouse, so close coordination with local officials is essential.

  • Determine how many security staff will be required at each stage of the proceeding. If pulling from local law enforcement to supplement court security staff build in some flexibility for the plan and remember that local law enforcement officers are likely to have subpoenas in other courts during the trial, so there may be an ongoing rotation of new officers. Be sure the plans are simple and preferable put them in writing.    

  • Provide training and oversight to any new staff members.  

  • Contact any other law enforcement agencies whose assistance is necessary or may be useful, and coordinate with them.    

  • Determine if extra funding will be required due to the increase in security needs. Make this determination early in the process if at all possible. The funder may be approached with the justice partners as a collective or this may be done ad hoc, consider both options.    

  • Ensure that court security staff and any local law enforcement being used at the court are trained to not comment to the media.   

  • Ensure that court security never talks about the case with the jury, and are careful to not be overheard by the jury. 

A courtroom security assessment will identify the additional staff a high-profile case will demand.

  • In the event of a violent incident in the courtroom, the trial judge should be prepared to a cede command of the situation to members of the security personnel. It is important that it is determined before proceedings each day which member of security will be in charge in case of a violent incident.   

  • The number of security personnel needed inside the courtroom will depend on the extent to which it is anticipated that defendants or spectators may cause disruptions or the level of concern about the potential for violence. In a very high security trial, a number of security personnel may be assigned to protect certain parties, witnesses, counsel, the judge, and the jury.    

  • Plainclothes officers may need to be planned for and stationed randomly throughout the spectators' gallery. In such a case, sufficient seating in key locations in the courtroom must be reserved for the extra officers.  
  • Ensure that court security never talks about the case with the jury, and are careful to not be overheard by the jury. 
  • Use only secure video conferencing feeds for remote witness testimony. For difficult litigants, (e.g. mental health issues or potentially violent), consider setting up a remote access feed into a secure area.

A large aspect of court securities time in a high-profile case is ensuring orderly conduct and maintaining decorum in the court, the following suggestions have been proven to help with this. 

  • Work with the high profile case team to plan for the orderly facilitation of each stage of the case. 

  • Determine how the ingress and egress of jurors, witnesses, the judge, the parties, and attorneys will be conducted. If the facility has the capacity to have separate entrances for particular groups of people, this may be advisable. 

  • Work with the high profile case team to determine how jurors will be specially cared for. It is important to make special arraignments for jurors to ensure that they are not harassed or intimidated. If they are sequestered this is somewhat easier. However, if not it is advisable to have jurors meet at an external location and be driven to the courthouse by security. (Various levels of sequestration discussion). 

  • If a courtroom seating plan has been decided upon by the PIO be aware of it and enforce it. 

  • If any policies have been determined regarding electronic devices be aware of them and enforce them. 

  • Determine a plan for how security will handle any requests for accommodations within Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance. 

  • In any case in which there is a custodial defendant and a jury, it is prudent to make sure the jurors will not see the defendant in custody status. This task will be exacerbated in a high profile case due to the increase of people moving in and around the courthouse. As such, it is important to adapt the current procedure to accommodate the expected increase in people to ensure that it will be sufficient in shielding the defendant from being seen by the jury in custody status. 

The importance of cyber security is not to be underestimated during the course of a high-profile case.

  • Monitor Ensure that all firewalls and other security measures are in place.
  • Change passwords to internet accessible databases if employees have recently left the court.
  • Only provide limited access to temporary employees on an as needed basis.

    Security Concerns

    Contact Us

    Have more questions? Please email Paula Hannaford-Agor or call her at (757) 259-1556.