Courthouse Security Relies on Good Communication
With no in-house security personnel, Steve Steadman depends on a thoughtful, tactical approach to courtroom security management.
While working for the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 1998, Steve Steadman was struck by how improvisational and ad hoc security measures were for the court. He found himself interested in advocating a thoughtful approach to courthouse security, focusing on improving awareness and developing the perimeter as the court’s first line of protection.
Now, as the Administrator for Judicial Security for the Ralph L. Carr Justice Center in Denver, Colorado, Steadman is putting his thoughtful approach into action.
Through practical applications of security technology, such as magnetometers, x-ray machines, duress or panic alarms, surveillance systems and video analytics, Steadman is pushing enterprise awareness further and further out to the perimeter to fortify the building’s first line of defense.
“We want to detect and deter threats at the perimeter, while still maintaining layers of security inside the building,” he says. “We’re trying to create redundancies in the security system by combining security and personnel.” What one might miss, he says, the other should catch. Analytics play a large role in this force-multiplying security system. This layer detects wrong-way entry, unattended packages and loitering, and Steadman is continuously working with the system to test or implement new solutions and reduce the number of false alarms.
“We’re relying on technology to call our personnel’s attention to the surveillance system’s screen,” says Steadman. Thus, the analytics within the surveillance system help to reduce user fatigue.
Steadman is also in a singular position when it comes to personnel management. He has no direct line of authority over the law enforcement officers who serve as security personnel at the courthouse, but through effective communication and an excellent relationship with the County Sheriffs of Colorado and Colorado State Patrol, he can push his initiatives forward.
“We share the same goal,” says Steadman of his partnership with Colorado law enforcement. “I think that the risks remain essentially the same. Courthouses are places where the rule of law is applied in an adversarial system, so there will always be unhappy people as a result of that process. We don’t want them to act out on their unhappiness while they’re at our courthouses. The second prong of risks we face is that we represent our democracy and our democratic institutions, and there are always people who wish to tear those institutions down as symbols of our freedom. We intend to protect the people who come to our courthouses on both of those fronts.”
The challenges to that goal are similar to years past as well: complacency, getting the right combination of staffing and equipment, and having enough deputies on call to realistically screen people at the perimeter, Steadman says. Colorado has some funds allocated to maintain and improve courthouse security, he adds, which has helped to shore up the resources Steadman needs to ensure people are professionally and adequately screened before entering, and that there are easy and prompt through-times.
“There is no such thing as over-communicating with law enforcement about our plans for courthouse security,” he says. “Especially before a high-risk or high-profile trial takes place, having good communication in place makes it much easier to develop a comprehensive security plan for that high-risk trial than attempting to do so in the midst of a crisis.”
For high-profile cases, such as those involving a celebrity or gang affiliations, Steadman will coordinate with the public information office to communicate with the media, so the story can be reported with minimal disruptions from reporters outside the courthouse clambering for information.
Throughout his years in courthouse security, these partnerships – with law enforcement, the state judicial system and the county government – are Steadman’s legacy. However, “it’s never a done deal,” he says. These partnerships require long-term work and nourishment, and they form a key part of the business plan – not just the security plan – of the Ralph L. Carr Justice Center.