Security efforts shortsighted

For more than six months, officials have known about serious flaws in the Regional Justice Center’s security camera system but have taken little action to fix them, according to courthouse sources.

The Review-Journal saw camera obstructions outside firsthand from the 17-story courthouse’s main control room operated by marshals.

As the marshals remotely panned two separate cameras mounted near the main entrance on the north side of the building, palm trees and other trees clearly were blocking several camera angles.

Cameras posted above a covered parking lot for judges across the street from the south side of the building encountered obstructions from the metal rooftops, making it nearly impossible, for the most part, to see anyone going in and out of their cars.

When the cameras were panned to a walkway leading to a private courthouse entrance, it was clear that the cameras would have a difficult time picking up anyone hiding in tall bushes near the walkway.

“The building was planned to be beautiful and accessible,” one courthouse source said. “It’s not security conscious. In most cases, all you’ve got to do is cut down a few trees or move some bushes, and the problems are fixed.”

The Regional Justice Center, which opened in October 2005, is the hub of Southern Nevada’s justice system, housing District Court, Las Vegas Municipal Court, Las Vegas Justice Court, the district attorney’s office and the city attorney’s office. The Nevada Supreme Court also has a courtroom and offices in the building.

Former Court Executive Officer Chuck Short said the courthouse was designed prior to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when the nation became more vigilant about protecting public buildings.

“It’s hard to predict every security need in designing a building,” Short said. “I know we ended up adding some security cameras inside and outside the building.”

The obstructions in the surveillance system, which have been there since the Regional Justice Center opened its doors, became more obvious to marshals on Jan. 4, when dozens of people fled for cover inside the building after a shooting at the nearby federal courthouse.

Sources said the marshals had trouble identifying potential threats outside the courthouse.

There were discussions between the marshals, judges and court administrators about those and other concerns, but no action, other than cleaning some of the camera lenses, was taken, the sources said.

District Judge Susan Johnson, who heads the Regional Justice Center’s security committee, was with the Review-Journal inside the control room when the marshals presented the various camera angles around the courthouse. The paper was invited into the room after it began making inquiries about the camera flaws.

Johnson wouldn’t say whether she had any concerns about the obstructions that everyone in the room saw.

“Our marshals rely on many systems to ensure the security of our buildings,” she said. “We use our cameras, our bike patrols and various other systems to ensure safety.

“All of our systems work together to provide us with many options. We don’t rely on just one system to help us do the job.”

The man in charge of the courthouse marshals, Lt. George Glasper, also would not say whether he was bothered by the blocked camera angles.

“It’s the court administration’s position that we do not comment on matters that could be a threat to public safety,” Glasper said. “We’re constantly working to improve security. We take any feedback into consideration concerning public safety, and we respond accordingly.”

Court Executive Officer Steve Grierson declined to be interviewed, and Michael Sommermeyer, the District Court’s spokesman, also declined to specifically discuss any security concerns.

“We are not going to comment on that sort of thing,” Sommermeyer said. “We’re very hesitant to reveal anything that might project how we protect the building and how we keep people safe inside it.”

At the same time, however, Sommermeyer said public security at the Regional Justice Center is “our primary concern.”

He said “security issues” at the center have been evaluated since the federal courthouse shooting.

“I’m positive that there are projects that are being looked at that may be used to enhance security,” Sommermeyer said. “If we were to find some sort of deficiency, we would go and find ways to fix that deficiency.”

Contact Jeff German at jgerman@reviewjournal.
com or 702-380-8135 or read more courts coverage at Review-Journal writer Doug McMurdo contributed to this report.

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