Keeping the Court Safe and Orderly
Maintaining public safety is a challenge that faces every court. In Contra Costa County, Sheriff David Livingston provides professional law enforcement services and onsite security for the Superior Courts and the Sheriff’s Office has done so since 1988. The Court Security Services Unit has approximately 95 dedicated sworn and non-sworn staff members who work hard each day to provide prompt, efficient, and professional service to the Court, its judges, staff, legal community, and the public.
As the Lieutenant in charge of Court Security Services, I work in close collaboration with the Court Security Advisory Committee Chairperson Judge Mary Ann O’Malley, Presiding Judge Jill Fannin and the Court Executive Officer Stephen Nash. We work collectively to find safe, innovative, and cost-effective ways to enhance the level of security at the courthouses. We are also focused on forecasting future security needs, from routine daily activities to preparing for the potential of catastrophic events that could impact the Court.
Contra Costa County Bar Association members regularly interact with court security staff at the various courthouses in Contra Costa County. Accordingly, I would like to share some information about the duties and responsibilities of our security staff and hopefully provide some insight into the ways you can also assist in keeping the courts safe and secure.
Court Security staff are responsible for the safety and protection of the judges, attorneys, court employees, and the public. Security staff works in a variety of assignments that range from weapons screening, courtroom bailiffs, court attendants, inmate supervision, and escort duties. Additionally, a select number of deputies are assigned to the Judicial Protection Unit (JPU). The JPU provides enhanced security and investigative services for crimes or threats against Judicial Officers. Deputies assigned to the JPU also receive specialized training in conducting risk assessments and executive protection.
Most of one’s interaction with court security occurs at the screening areas of the courthouse. The security staff assigned to these locations are tasked with critical job responsibilities directly associated with ensuring the safety of every person who enters the courthouse. The security staff conducts an airport-style screening process of all individuals, with the focus being on the detection of weapons and contraband. Our staff is not just looking for traditional weapons, such as knives or guns, but any item that could be manipulated or used as a weapon.
Court Administration makes provision for an expedited facility entry for certain individuals, including attorneys and peace officers, subject to specific conditions. These conditions include the requirement to present a valid form of identification upon entering the courthouse that was either issued or previously approved by Court Administration. (If there is ever a question about the approved forms of identification, you can always speak with a security staff member or inquire with Court Administration.)
Periodically, security staff conducts random attorney screening, where all attorneys are required to participate in the weapons screening process. When this occurs, we bring in additional staff to assist in expediting the screening process. Though this screening process may seem like an inconvenience, it is essential to gauge if prohibited items and weapons are inadvertently being brought into the courthouse. As a result, always be sure to double check your personal property, briefcase, and computer bag, and remove items that are non-work related, contraband, or could potentially be used as weapons.
Courtroom bailiffs, whose roles are essential in preserving courtroom order and decorum, are also a vital component of Sheriff’s security staff. Bailiffs provide protection and care for the judges, attorneys, staff, jurors, members of the public, and prisoners in the courtroom. Bailiffs perform multiple job functions daily and must be ready to react at a moment’s notice. In fact, earlier this year a bailiff was assisting the Court during the voir dire process and saw a prospective juror who was slumped over and not breathing. The bailiff immediately requested assistance and provided medical care for the juror. Due to his efforts, the juror began breathing on his own, was transported to the hospital, and ultimately made a full recovery. This is just one example of the attention and dedication to duty that the bailiffs and security staff show daily.
We all share the common goal of ensuring that courthouses throughout Contra Costa County remain safe and secure. Members of the Court Security Services Unit will remain diligent in continuing to provide the highest level of law enforcement services and security for the Contra Costa County Superior Court.