Every year since she became Chief Justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court a decade ago, Leigh I. Saufley has told legislators that money was needed to secure the state’s courthouses.
She will deliver a similar message Feb. 9 in her annual State of the Judiciary speech and tell lawmakers if they want to ensure the safety of Mainers who access the court system, it will cost an additional $3.1 million a year. Saufley has requested that amount in the supplemental budget, she said last week in a phone interview.
“The last couple of years, the Legislature and the governor have paid a lot of attention to court security,” she said. “The good news is that in last year’s budget, we received baseline funding and were able to fill a couple of marshal positions, but we need more to secure all 39 courthouses around the state.”
That has allowed the court system to increase entry screening from 21 percent of the days the courts were open in the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2011, to 28 percent for the first six months of fiscal year 2012, according to Michael A. Coty, director of Marshal Services. That number includes entry screening at the Penboscot Judicial Center, which is the only courthouse in the state to have full-time entry screening, and courthouses where entry screening rarely happens. Information on the percentage of screening days excluding the Bangor courthouse was not available over the weekend.
The judiciary contracts with the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office to staff the entrance at the judicial center at a cost of $90,000 a year, Coty said.
Statewide, 463,046 people were screened between July 1, 2010, and June 30, 2011. Between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2011, slightly more than 127,000 people went through entry screening at the Bangor courthouse.
If those numbers were for the same 12-month period, people screened at the Penobscot Judicial Center would represent about 27 percent of those screened statewide. Those numbers also do not account for repeat visitors to courthouses, such as local attorneys who may go in and out of a courthouse several times in one day.
“The most telling factor is the number of turnarounds we have,” Saufley said, referring to the 1,416 people who left a courthouse when they saw entry screening was being conducted. “We aren’t able to determine the number of those who went to their vehicles, left a weapon or contraband in it and came back into the courthouse, and those who left.”
But Saufley believes that the things confiscated from people when they enter courthouses that feature metal detectors and X-ray machines makes the best case for spending the money for full-time coverage.
In fiscal year 2011, five guns; 100 rounds of ammunition; 24 “ammo clips;” 13,019 sharp objects, including knives, scissors, box cutters, razors and nail files; and 1,296 miscellaneous items, such as pepper spray, martial arts weapons and tools, were confiscated from people entering the courthouse, according to Coty. Many of the items, such as pocket knives and scissors, were returned to people when they left a courthouse.
Contraband, however, was not returned, he said. In the year that ended June 30, 2011, 115 items, including illegal drugs, pipes and prescription drugs that had not been issued to the person in possession of them, were seized.
The court system does not track the number of arrests or summonses issued as a result of entry screening, Coty said.
“Officers have discretion on who they charge based on several criteria,” he said. “Not all cases are reported to outside law enforcement agencies.
Some are charged by the marshals. It depends on geographics, the specific factual situation and human resources.”
The judicial center in Bangor has been a model for new courthouses under construction and in the planning stages, Saufley has said. All new courthouses will be designed with a single public entrance and space for full-time entry screening. The renovation and addition to the courts in Piscataquis County, which combines the Superior and District courts as the judicial center in Bangor did, is scheduled to open next month. A modern addition to the Kennebec County Courthouse is in the design phase.
Whether there will be money to staff entry screening at the new buildings full time will be up to lawmakers, Coty said.
Since Saufley delivered her last State of the Judiciary address, there has been a major change at the State House. Last week, full-time entry screening was implemented in the capitol at a cost of $546,000.
Legislators and State House workers have been issued cards that allow them to bypass the checkpoint but visitors, including state Supreme Court justices, will have to got through it. It’s too early to tell whether that will affect lawmakers’ views on the need to increase security in Maine’s courthouses.
Despite the increase in the number of days entry screening takes place, Maine still lags far behind other states in making courts more secure, Saufley said.