Palmer, Kenai courthouses add security personnel

Posted: Monday, June 23, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) After obtaining a metal detector and X-ray scanner for the Palmer courthouse earlier this year, court officials will finally be able to hire people to operate the equipment.

Court officials secured about $30,000 in federal funding to buy the screening equipment, which for months has been ignored by people entering the courthouse.

Last week, court officials learned that $150,000 to hire security officers for courthouses in Palmer and in Kenai survived Gov. Frank Murkowski's veto pen.

Court officials told legislators last session that ''we considered this a very important public safety issue,'' said Chris Christensen, deputy administrative director of the Alaska Courts System.

No specific complaints at Palmer prompted the suggestion. But courthouses are dangerous places, Christensen said: crowded, emotional arenas where volatile divorce and domestic violence cases frequently play out.

Most states require an armed bailiff in every courtroom. Alaska requires armed security when an in-custody criminal defendant or convict is brought to court, he said.

''If you don't have armed security (in courtrooms), it's even more important to have armed security at the door to screen people.''

Most courthouse incidents involve family cases in which someone attacks another person in the case, either a lawyer or litigant, said Wendy Lyford, area court administrator for Alaska's Third District, which includes Palmer.

''We really do want people running the machine,'' Lyford said. ''We don't want to put plants on it.''

Two officers are expected to start work at the Palmer courthouse in early August, she said.

Only courts at Anchorage and Fairbanks handle more cases. The state installed security systems in both courthouses in the mid-1990s. Juneau added a security system last year.

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