BARNSTABLE – The metal detector inside the Barnstable District Courthouse only screens about half the people who enter that building, which is a major security breach.
HN has been monitoring district court security in recent years because it’s potentially one of the most volatile public buildings in the area. And what I’ve learned is alarming, to say the least.
Here’s what I’ve observed over the past few years:
Members of the press, including HN, have been often allowed to enter the courthouse without passing through the metal detector or x-ray machine.
Attorneys, often carrying brief cases, and sometimes pulling along luggage bags resembling airplane carry-ons with rollers, simply bypass all security screening entirely by showing a tiny ID card which allegedly indicates they are a member of the bar association. HN has been told some attorneys carry personal firearms to the courthouse, and that there are lockers near the entrance checkpoint for them to disarm and secure those weapons. In all the years of observing courthouse security, HN has never observed an attorney check his weapon. HN has also been told rumors that some attorneys may be ignoring rules and entering the courthouse with firearms, either concealed on their persons or in their bags.
It’s important to note that attorneys are not necessarily trained in weapon retention should someone try to overpower them and take their weapon inside the courthouse, which is supposedly a gun free zone.
Barnstable District Court Officers are not armed, but they do wear a white law enforcement type uniform, with a “walkie talkie” and handcuffs. They are often the only visible uniformed members of law enforcement inside the courtroom and greater court complex. In the event of an active shooter, their current uniform and lack of equipment makes them more of a target than anything else, leaving everyone else that much more at risk.
It’s important to point out, court officers are the primary officials in charge of ensuring the safety of all unarmed citizens inside the courthouse. Police officers may or may not be inside the building, but they are typically there on court business, and are not necessarily tasked with securing the building. (The local police SWAT team is trained to respond to the courthouse for an active shooter after the fact… but that will likely be too late for victims and other unarmed court patrons.)
State and municipal police officers on court business routinely enter the courthouse concealing or openly carrying firearms.
Employees of the courthouse do not pass through security screening upon entering the building. Employees are numerous; including clerks, office workers, members of the judiciary, probation workers, janitors, etc..
Recently, security officers professed they have tightened up security screening, an order supposedly passed down from the ‘top,’ and that everyone is now required to pass through the metal detector and x-ray. But unfortunately, that is absolutely not the case.
HN recently spoke to Security Chief of Courts Mark Horan and he reiterated that everyone, including attorneys, are now required to walk through the metal detector, along with x-ray screenings of their belongings upon entering the building. But again, that is not what HN has observed. Just yesterday morning, HN audited the line of citizens waiting to pass through the courthouse security checkpoint (the line stretched out the door) while at least 20 or more alleged attorneys excused themselves and completely avoided screening simply by walking around the machines and into the courthouse, some quickly whipping out some form of alleged ID. Some not even making eye contact with security personnel… Several of these “attorneys” HN has never ever seen before. In reality, these “attorneys” could be anyone from anywhere around this entire wide world, imposters even, merely claiming to be members of the Massachusetts Bar, simply by whipping out a tiny piece of paper the size of a business card. HN has observed “security” officers just barely glance at what they’re shown. If these “attorneys” basically look the part; suit, brief case, rolling luggage, they’re seemingly ‘in like Flynn.’
As mentioned, I often don’t know or recognize some of these “attorneys” and admittedly, neither do the security officers. They simply put their trust on (along with the security of everyone else) …on that tiny little card. Also note, after researching online and speaking with officials, HN has not found any information or documentation that indicates members of the Massachusetts Bar are any less of a security risk than any other member of the general public .
While observing yesterday, HN also observed that courthouse staff still are not required to pass through security.
So who actually is required to subject themselves to metal detection and x-ray screenings of their belongings? Who is that dreaded other half (approximately 50% of daily patrons from my quick informal estimations) that are actually mandated to empty their pockets, remove their belts, have their bags checked, lift their arms to be “wanded,” etc —– yesterday, I even witnessed an infant lifted out of her carriage and walked through the metal detector as officers worked diligently to ensure that neither mom or the tiny child were packing heat. Security officers put on a excellent security show at first glance, appearing relatively thorough with the other dreaded half of court patrons. But who are these dreaded other court patrons and why can they not also be trusted as much as some, let’s say for example… some clearly out of shape, hungover, and completely unknown attorney waddling in from who-knows-where, pulling luggage, and breezing through, simply flashing his tiny bar membership card? Why is the alleged “attorney” more trustworthy than some unaffiliated citizen coming in to file an emergency restraining order?
(HN Note: No offense. Not all “attorneys” are waddling, and hungover, but rest assured, some most definitely are – in fact, I’m picturing a couple right now… and I often silently pray they are not packing a weapon in their current condition, groggy, apparently having ingested several bad ice cubes the night before… and now seen speaking up close, almost leaning on their client, a career defendant they may not even know, possibly accused of multiple violent crimes… and the unsettling thought of the attorney having a gun right there and being unfit to retain it on his person or in his unchecked bag makes me shiver… but I digress.)
Are we really to believe that the Barnstable District Courthouse – the people’s courthouse – is actually, and in fact, safely secured because security officers screen some while completely ignoring and trusting others because of an alleged bar membership, courthouse employment, or membership to some other government organization?
It is clear the courthouse is not secure. It’s a leaky operation that puts citizens in danger under the false pretense of it being a gun free zone.
In fact, the only people with a fighting chance under the current security system are the occasional armed cops….
… or, God forbid, that one armed person hellbent on harming the rest of us! —- with sworn court officers on the front line, most likely the first ones who may be shot.
HN tried yesterday to speak with Chief Horan again about these concerns. He was in a meeting or otherwise indisposed. (Which I completely understand, I don’t have a bar card and am not a member of any government organization… you know, the “trusted class.” So, if he was, in fact, avoiding me, I don’t blame him one bit…) HN, however, was given a slip of paper with the name and number of a government bureaucrat in Boston, one in charge of speaking with media. But I’m not sure what she can do from way up in Boston should a shooter enter the courthouse, but someday when I have an abundance of time to kill on fruitless endeavors, I just might give her a call. Her name is Jennifer Donahue and she can be reached at 617-557-1113. I’m sure she’s a very congenial person. But again, the real problem I’m concerned about is happening at the Barnstable District Courthouse, not up in Boston…
In the meantime, my work forces me to take my chances and pray for safety as I enter the court — my workplace — to do my job. On a brighter note, I managed to put my rosary beads through the x-ray machine yesterday – the x-ray for the dreaded other 50% – and luckily nobody said a word. Little did they know, in today’s Massachusetts, those tiny beads are actually the most powerful weapon I own…
… and with the current show of fake security, ‘a wish and a prayer’ is all any of us will ever really have in terms of security while attending Barnstable District Court.
[So what, if anything, does this current “courthouse security” system actually accomplish? Perhaps one topic for another article, is that the current system does effectively create a bizarre and divisive trusted vs. untrusted class environment – albeit, not a very effective security environment – where one class of people are to be trusted based merely on affiliation or club membership, and another class of people who have no affiliation are automatically not to be trusted. Troubling if you have no affiliation, but if you’re “in like Flynn,” not so much? But don’t be too quick to feel good about being Flynn. This is a dangerous situation in terms of security. Bottom line: any serious security operation needs to screen everyone, regardless of perceived divisions. In terms of security, and to quote a recovering alcoholic, who also is an attorney, “half measures avail us nothing.” ]
P.S. — Today’s Hytown Vignette music by Head East… [CRANK IT! USE HEADPHONES! SMOKE CIGARETTES IF YOU GOT ‘EM!]
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