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Court safety

Published February 18. 2013 4:00AM

It is appropriate that a discussion is now underway whether to arm judicial marshals and, if so, to what extent.

It is a wonder that Connecticut courtrooms have not seen more violence. Every day hundreds of people charged with crimes, and often the people they committed those crimes against, appear in the state's courtrooms. In the family courts the tensions often rise even higher, as the judicial system deals with the extreme emotions and mental health issues linked to the breakdown of marriages and battles over the custody of children.

That the state has not seen more violence is a testimony to the good job done by the judicial marshals who work at the entrances of our courthouses, using metal detectors, X-ray scanners and their experience to keep weapons out. But if a heavily armed individual (or individuals) was to ever shoot his way into a busy courthouse, a tragic loss of life could well follow.

Judicial marshals are not armed. While an inspector in the prosecutor's office or a police officer at court to testify might be armed and available, there is no guarantee. And given the carnage an attacker with a semi-automatic rifle can inflict, awaiting the arrival of police may well be waiting too long.

Yet alternatives need careful study. Arming every judicial marshal would raise its own concerns. A defendant could overpower and disarm a marshal, and seize a weapon. It is this concern that has led to the gun-free courtroom policy.

Alternatives might be to have one or two trained and armed marshals in each courthouse, or to have weapons secured and accessible only by marshals in the event they have to react to an emergency.

Failing to arm these court security officers at all, and then hoping nothing happens, is not a good policy.

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