The Denison City Council recently approved a new set of procedures and plans for security in its municipal courtroom. The new procedures come as the city prepares to move into the new city hall building on Main Street later this summer.
“Most of the defendants we have run into have been respectful and we have had no issues,” Denison Court Administrator Chris Wallentine said. “However, we want to be proactive rather than reactive in today’s times.”
In May of last year, Gov. Greg Abbott signed the Judge Julie Kocurek Judicial and Courthouse Security Act of 2017 into law. The law requires cities to have a court security committee and create its own set of plans for security of its courts.
The law is named after Austin Judge Julie Kocurek, who survived an assassination attempt outside her home in 2015. The Texas Tribune reported that a phoned-in tip regarding a threat to a judge’s life was briefly investigated prior to the shooting, but it was not deemed credible at the time.
After the attack, the state Office of Court Administration polled judges across the state and found that 38 percent feared for their personal safety at least once at work in the past two years, the Texas Tribune reported. The poll also found that 42 percent said they were afraid at least once when away from work.
Other parts of the law require local law enforcement to send reports to the OCA about security incidents that occur in the court. The law also allows for the name of a judge and their spouse to be omitted from certain public documents, including the listing for their personal home.
In many cases, Denison already had many security procedures in place, but this new plan put them in writing, Wallentine explained.
“For court days, we have always had Denison Police Department in place to serve as the bailiff, and they have always done an exceptional job,” she said.
However, one new procedure will be added once the city, and by proxy the municipal courts, move to the new city hall building, located in the former Bank of America building on Main Street. Wallentine said the city has purchased a new portable metal detector and wand, which will be used on the days that the court is in session.
These and other security measures will be funded by a court security fund fee, which is included in the penalties for some charges, Wallentine said.
In addition to these aspects of the plan, Public Works Director Bobby Atteberry said additional security measures have been included in the designs for the new city hall. Atteberry said the security of the new city hall will include traditional security cameras and keyed access, alongside more modern security techniques.
As an example, Atteberry said the dais on which the city council, or judge during court days, sits will include Kevlar material behind the finish.
“You may not be able to see it from the front, but it will be the same material that they use in many bulletproof vests,” he said.
The same material will also be present in the building materials used along the water department offices and the court clerk offices, Atteberry said. As a part of the former bank’s design, the exterior windows are already designed to be bulletproof, Atteberry said.
The security item was included on the council’s consent agenda, which represents routine items that are acted upon with a single vote. As such, the item was not individually discussed by the council prior to the unanimous vote.