October 25, 2014
Final Reports
San Mateo Courts - Civil Grand Jury

2001 Final Report:

Security of San Mateo County Courthouses

Summary | Background | Findings | Recommendations | Responses

Summary:

Following September 11, 2001, the 2001-2002 Grand Jury studied the adequacy of security at county courthouses. The Grand Jury focused first on the Hall of Justice and Records in Redwood City, where the majority of the county's court facilities are housed, followed by Northern Branch in South San Francisco, Central Branch in San Mateo, and the Hillcrest Juvenile facility in unincorporated San Mateo County. Grand jurors interviewed county personnel involved in security administration and employees of the county's contract security service, and observed security at each of the four facilities.

Since the first grand jury report on this issue in 1994, the county has undertaken numerous improvement measures.

The adequacy of security varies from building to building, with the Hall of Justice and Records having the highest level. Security measures are being upgraded at Northern Branch through installation of new systems. The other two facilities have some security, but it may be a number of years before significant improvements are made.

In San Mateo County, the design and implementation of courthouse security is complicated by three factors:

  1. Some buildings house both county offices and court facilities
  2. Responsibility for security of those buildings rests with the county
  3. Responsibility to pay for security of the portions of the buildings occupied by the courts rests with the state

The county cannot act unilaterally to fund court security measures without paying expenses that are the state's responsibility
.

Issue: Is there appropriate and adequate security at San Mateo County courthouses?

Background:

The September 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon made it clear to the 2001-2002 Grand Jury that continued attention must be paid to security issues in government and public buildings. For that reason, the 2001-2002 Grand Jury decided to continue, and expand, its monitoring of the adequacy of security at all the major County courthouses (Hall of Justice and Records at County Center in Redwood City, North County Courthouse at 1050 Mission Rd. in South San Francisco, Central Court Branch at 800 No. Humboldt St. in San Mateo, and Hillcrest Juvenile Court on Tower Rd. in unincorporated San Mateo County).

Courthouse security has been a concern of every San Mateo County grand jury since 1994, with reports issued every year except 2000. Since the 1994 report, the county has undertaken numerous measures, including:

  1. Establishment of the standing Building Security Work Group
  2. Reviews of security issues at county court facilities
  3. Installation of a perimeter security system at the Hall of Justice and Records
  4. Implementation of a photo identification system for all county employees

The opening comments of the 1994 Grand Jury report are still valid: "In recent years there has been an increase nationwide in homicides and violent attacks on people within public and private buildings. What used to be safe havens for workers and officials are no longer so. Suspects, litigants, judges, deputies and others have been killed or wounded while conducting business within these buildings."

The 2001-2002 Grand Jury's investigation included interviews with the Sheriff and key staff members responsible for the security of County facilities, the County Manager, the Court Executive Officer, several County Supervisors, members of the Building Security Work Group, a small sample of workers in the Hall of Justice and Records, and management staff of the county's contract security service - Pinkerton Security and Investigation Service. It also included a review of the County's $2.1 million per annum contract with Pinkerton and direct observation of security practices at all county courthouses.

The contract specifies the staffing levels, locations and service hours, staff qualifications, training, and specific job duties for Pinkerton staff at each county facility under the contract. The Countywide Security Program staff meets routinely with the Pinkerton project managers, but does not hold formal periodic project management meetings with them. The Sheriff is responsible for courthouse security and supervises the Pinkerton contract. Its countywide Security Program comprises two officers who are dedicated to, and have direct responsibility for, security issues for all county facilities other than jail facilities. Staffing of security services for all county facilities consists of a combination of county personnel (e.g., Deputy Sheriffs) and contractor personnel.

Findings:

The design and implementation of courthouse security is complicated by three factors in this county:

  1. Some buildings house both county offices and court facilities
  2. Responsibility for security of those buildings rests with the county
  3. Responsibility to pay for security of the portions of the buildings occupied by the courts rests with the state

The county initially studied appropriate security for the Hall of Justice and Records in 1997, but has not revisited that study as the 1997 report recommended. The only current study is of the Northern Courthouse facility. There are also no formal criteria or procedures to measure the performance of security systems at county facilities.

In 1998 the judges in this county adopted a court security plan in accordance with the California Rules of Court. Since then the county judiciary has failed to periodically review and assess its security plan as required by those rules. As noted below, there are security breaches that should motivate the judges to conduct this review.

Of all San Mateo County courthouses the level of security is the highest at the Hall of Justice and Records. The main entrance of the Redwood City courthouse has a security checkpoint and badge-controlled revolving doors for the ingress and egress of employees and registered attorneys. Current Grand Jury members personally observed security violations or a lessened degree of security coverage on several occasions, including: 1) badge holders opened security doors for other people, 2) a baby stroller with packages passed through the security checkpoint without inspection, and 3) deputies were absent from the checkpoint area. The Grand Jury also obtained written reports describing two recent incidents in which handguns were brought through security without being detected. Security screening rules have also not been applied consistently. There are confirmed reports that security screening is reduced for several "important" individuals who sought it, and that some attorneys, who are not county employees, have 24?hour, 7-day access to the building. Most county employees working in the building do not have that level of access.

After receiving their ID badges and initial security briefings, badge holders do not receive follow-up training to remind them of their security responsibilities. For some employees, initial security briefings took place as long as four years ago.

The Northern Courthouse, which deals with a high volume of domestic and gang-related violence and consequently has a high potential for confrontations, has no barrier or perimeter security in place. In FY 2001-2002, the San Mateo Courts obtained more than $1 million from the state for building perimeter security measures. The courts determined to spend all of these funds on the Northern Courthouse for a project that is underway.

The Central Court Branch, which currently has limited security, may eventually be closed. Its current security arrangements, therefore, are unlikely to be upgraded.

The Juvenile Court also has only limited security. A new, expanded Juvenile Center is being designed and security issues will be addressed as part of that project.

The Grand Jury did not review security at other county facilities, but believes that the 2002-2003 Grand Jury should review the adequacy of security at other facilities, such as San Mateo County Family Health Center.

 

Recommendations:


Recommendation

  1. The county should develop formal quantitative security standards and hire an independent third party to test and evaluate courthouse building perimeter security systems based on those standards at regular intervals.
  2. As the security of court facilities is linked to overall building security, the current "Court Security Plan", which was developed in accordance with the California Rules of Court, should be reviewed as part of recommendation 1, above.
  3. The Sheriff should review existing security standards and make any appropriate changes.
  4. The Building Security Work Group should meet regularly and require a representative of the county's contracted security service to attend.
  5. The Sheriff should improve management of the contract security service by holding quarterly meetings with the county's contracted security service to: (1) identify and discuss issues, (2) review progress on action items, (3) define and reinforce standards for performance evaluation, and (4) identify necessary contract amendments.
  6. The county should install video camera-recorder systems to monitor the front and rear entrances of the Hall of Justice and Records for purposes of deterrence, periodic audits, and follow-up investigations.
  7. The county should require and provide compulsory refresher security training for all badge holders.
  8. The 2002-2003 Grand Jury should monitor county courthouse security systems, the recommendations made in this report, and the adequacy of security at other county facilities, such as San Mateo County Family Health Center.
Response


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