Iowa Courthouses work to beef up security statewide
A number of employees say they feel unsafe in courthouses
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Larry “Buck” Koos said he knows for everyone else it was March. But every day for him still is Sept. 9, 2014, the day a man opened fire in the Jackson County Courthouse and Koos stepped up and wrestled him to the ground.
“I could never tell anybody else to do what I did that day,” Koos said last week from his home in Maquoketa.
On that day, Francis “Gus” Glazer, a former Maquoketa city manager who had been upset over his property taxes, pulled out a gun from his briefcase and fired once at County Assessor Deb Lane, missing her, before Koos wrestled him to the floor. Another shot went off — no one one else was hurt, but the shot killed Glazer.
Koos's action likely prevented any further injuries.
“Now, it's not a question of what if something happens here (in courthouse) — it has happened, and what can we do to prevent it” from happening again, Koos said.
(For a fuller account of Koos' story, please click here.)
That is the question across the state as Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady has made courthouse security a priority. The judicial branch conducted a survey last year of security measures at each of the 99 courthouses and had started looking into updating the 1999 security guidelines and employee training before the shooting in Jackson County.
Survey results show the vast differences in security measures across the state.
l Only eight counties have airport style screening systems
l 23 counties don't have security plans
l 52 court staffs haven't received emergency training for five years.
One question — if there were bulletproof barriers for judges on the bench — received 73 “no” responses. Included in the “yes” answers, some listed law books as barriers.
“Have you seen how thick some of those are?” Iowa State Court Administrator David Boyd jokingly asked earlier this month. “No, but … we have to look at everything and it comes down to, How do we make the public, as well as the employees, feel safe and secure?”
Boyd said what surprised him the most was the number of employees who said in the survey that they were scared to be in their workplace — a courthouse.
“I certainly understand it,” Boyd said. “There are many situations that can become volatile in a courthouse, besides the criminal cases. There are domestic relations or disputes over probate can lead to heated situations.”
However, Boyd pointed out that not all the volatile incidents that occur in a courthouse stem from court proceedings or business conducted there. Many county offices such as in Jackson County are located within state courthouses, and that shooting occurred during a county meeting.
Limited funds are available, Boyd said, and not every courthouse can't install airport screening systems — but from a practical standpoint, the more-rural districts don't need those on a daily basis. And, he, said, it makes sense that counties and courts work together on security.
But Boyd admitted there is no request in the judicial budget for security measures this year.
As a supervisor, Koos agreed and said he doesn't want to have a “knee-jerk” reaction just because he went through a trauma. County dollars are stretched thin and most counties can't afford or need elaborate systems, he said.
For Jackson County, it might be a matter of closing some of the five entrances and replacing the locking system to tighten security.
“It's not one-size-fits-all,” Boyd said. “It might take some creativity to come up with solutions. We are working with the Iowa State Association of Counties to help us implement some employee training on emergency situations like active shooter in the building, bomb threats, hostage situations, along with weather-related training like for tornadoes and fires.”
Boyd said they are putting together a committee of judicial and county employees to come up with common curriculum for employee training. Boyd said to think of this as more “like a marathon than a sprint” to find the best solutions.
Many of the judicial districts already have started security committees and a few counties have added some security measures.
In Johnson County, the Board of Supervisors made it a priority to include courthouse security in its budget after three failed referendums to expand the courthouse, Supervisor Terrence Neuzil said. The board approved adding two deputies to be in the courthouse and it designated $250,000 to build a secure courthouse entrance.
The new entrance will be constructed at the back of the courthouse to allow for handicapped accessibility, and the front entrance will be closed and used as an emergency exit, Neuzil said. He hopes it will be finished by the end of summer or in the fall at the latest.
Following a shooting incident in 2014 at the Madison County Courthouse, the sheriff's office added a full-time deputy to be in the courthouse on service days and added signs saying weapons are banned in the building.