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Pitkin County to ramp up courtroom security

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – Two full-time positions to provide part-time security outside Pitkin County courtrooms won support from county commissioners on Tuesday.

The $180,000 annual expense will cover the cost of two full-time officers – a patrol officer and jail deputy – plus a vehicle for the patrol officer to use on days he or she is not assigned to courtroom security. A $16,000 state grant will cover the cost of new detection equipment and training on how to use it.

The impetus for the security upgrades, Judge James Boyd told commissioners, is “access to justice.” That means freedom from the risk of danger in the courtroom, where situations can become volatile, as well as freedom from fear of risk, he said.

“We’re lucky we haven’t had any real tragedies in the courthouse, but we certainly have had some dangerous situations,” Judge Boyd said.

“We feel it’s time to get more proactive, and less reactive, to security,” he said.

At present, noted sheriff’s office Undersheriff Joe DiSalvo, anyone can walk into the courtrooms on the third floor of the historic county courthouse without being checked for weapons.

“We have no security up there at this point,” he said. “I think these two people we’re going to post there are overdue.”

There is $180,000 in unallocated funds currently in the budget to cover the cost, as the county was bracing for an expense for courtroom security coming forward, said County Manager Hilary Fletcher.

The originally anticipated request, for security five days a week, was reduced to courtroom duty three days a week – during regularly scheduled criminal and civil proceedings.

Those entering the courtroom will be required to walk through a magnetometer that detects metal objects. Officers will also be equipped with handheld wands.

A community outreach campaign will be necessary to let members of the public know they need to leave items like pocket knives and nail files at home because they will be confiscated, DiSalvo said.

Commissioner Jack Hatfield questioned the adequacy of checking only for metal.

“How ’bout the guy with explosives in his underwear?” he said.

The broader step, but one that neither Boyd nor the sheriff’s office is yet willing to suggest, is funneling everyone who visits the courthouse for any purpose through a security screening.

Such a move would require a community discussion, Fletcher said.

Some commissioners voiced dismay, but not an objection, to providing the security measures.

“I do think it’s a sad day when you consider your home of justice coming under these threats, but it’s out there,” said Commissioner Rachel Richards. “I think we have to take these issues seriously.”

The new equipment should be in place within a month or so, but an older-model metal detector will be put into service Friday, when the sheriff’s office bumps up security during a court hearing for actor Charlie Sheen and his wife. Sheen was arrested Christmas Day in Aspen and faces several charges in connection with an alleged domestic dispute.

janet@aspentimes.com


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