Council OKs municipal court security upgrades

The Aberdeen Municipal Court is the latest court on the Harbor to get security upgrades in the wake of the attacks at the historic courthouse in Montesano.

The Aberdeen City Council on Wednesday approved a security agreement with Olympic Security Services Inc. to provide metal detectors and a weapons screener.

Municipal Court Judge Paul Conroy , a former deputy prosecutor who worked in Montesano, said it’s important for courts to receive security, citing threats to him and his staff over the years he’s been a judge. The City of Hoquiam, Grays Harbor District Court in Aberdeen and the county courts in Montesano have all received security upgrades in the wake of the attacks on Superior Court Judge Dave Edwards and Deputy Polly Davin.

“In the lobby someone tried to punch the plexiglass and that wasn’t successful, so they put their hand through a wall in the lobby,” Conroy told the council’s Public Safety Committee Wednesday night. “Then they went outside and we thought maybe they’d be coming back. Just to prevent something really bad from happening, something like this is appropriate. …

“When there’s a jury trial, we require the public to come in,” he added. “When people are written citations, they have to come to court and I think we need to provide security given the climate we have today to just be a little safer.”

“This is the minimum thing we can do,” Councilman Pete Schave said.

Councilman John Erak was the only council member to vote against the measure because he had questions on if the security upgrades will be enough and where the funding would come from.

“We will find the money,” Council President Kathi Hoder said. “Our job is to protect the people.”

Judge Conroy said that bullet-proof glass will replace the plexi-glass in front of the court clerk’s station at the court building. The walls will also be re-enforced. Conroy said city employees would be doing the upgrades. He didn’t have a specific cost figure.

The security contract will cost an estimated $2,300 per month, although it could be higher or lower depending on how often court is in session, Conroy said.

The screener will not be armed. That would have cost more, Conroy said. But he said the screener will carry a “panic button” to alert police, who are located in the building next door. The judge said his clerk would also have a panic button and he has one already at the bench.

“Have you ever had an incident?” Aberdeen Councilman Doug Paling asked the judge.

“There have been no guns in the court,” Conroy said. “But we’ve had a number of people who have needed to be wrestled to the ground and tased. There have been people taking a pencil who stab themselves. There have been a number of times I’ve had to hit the panic button. …

“We need this given what happened up at the county a couple months ago, given the threats made toward me and some of you saw the story in The Daily World today about the judge that opened up his front door on Monday and someone threw some liquid in his face,” Conroy added. “I think people in the past couple of years have gotten a little more aggressive toward judges and to courts and I think this is necessary to try to keep weapons in the courtroom. This would prevent someone from trying to smuggle in a weapon to the courtroom.”