Legislators Hunt Ways to Bolster Court Security; House, Senate Consider Issues after Rampage at Fulton Courthouse

Article excerpt

Byline: BRANDON LARRABEE, The Times-Union

ATLANTA -- The shooting rampage at the Fulton County Courthouse and 26-hour manhunt that ensued did more than transfix a nation.

It left several officials -- including state lawmakers located about two blocks from the site of the shootings -- looking for ways to improve security at Georgia's courthouses.

Since the March 11 attack, the Senate Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee has promised to hold hearings with its House counterpart. At the same time, the upper chamber created a separate panel to look into security at state and county buildings.

"We want to have some of these talks and see how we can help from a state perspective," said Senate Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee Chairman Brian Kemp, R-Athens, in announcing the hearings.

But many questions still surround the work of the panels. Key among them is what the state's role should be and what can be done to rein in individuals, some of them accused of horrific crimes, who might be dangerous even before they set foot into a courtroom.

While the Atlanta shootings have given the issue an urgency, lawmakers don't seem eager to come up with specific solutions.

Instead, they say they want to hear from those who serve in the courtroom -- judges and the sheriff's offices that guide the security arrangements at county courthouses -- before beginning to legislate.

"I really don't want to have preconceived notions before we hear from those folks," Kemp said. "We need to be listening to facts and addressing real-life situations before we make any knee-jerk reactions."

The idea of hearings also has support from the Georgia Sheriffs' Association.

One question that has emerged almost immediately is how much of a role, if any, the state should play in setting broad standards for courthouse security. Most of those involved in the discussions seem to be opposed to the idea of any state mandates.

"You can't do a standard," said Washington County Sheriff Thomas Smith, who heads the sheriffs' group. "The security for Fulton County and for Washington County . . . is apples and oranges."

Lawmakers, such as Democratic Rep. Quincy Murphy of Augusta, agree.

"I think that the security issue should be left up to each individual county or each individual . . . location," Murphy said. "What's good for Atlanta might not be the ideal arrangement for Augusta or Savannah."

Richard Soloway, founder of Napco Security Systems Inc., said there are a few key factors that have to be taken into consideration when deciding how tight protection needs to be at a given location. …