Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Scott Herhold on Excessive Government Spending

The SJ Merc's Scott Herhold exposes some excessive government spending:

The cost of all courtroom security in the county, which includes bailiffs, has grown from $17.2 million in 2000-01 to $30.8 million this year, an increase of 79 percent. Over those same eight years, inflation has been 21 percent.

Setting aside cost, the way courtroom security is handled makes no sense. When I walk into Santa Clara County's civil courthouses, I see four to five officers all within fifteen feet of each other. A violent person can use an automatic weapon to maim or kill all five officers, at which point he is in the courtroom ready to wreck more mayhem against defenseless lawyers and staff. Forget a gun--how about a homemade
bomb? A violent person can waltz right into a courthouse with a homemade bomb and throw it within a vicinity of about forty people. I'm assuming the sheriffs and deputies aren't trained in dismantling bombs, so regardless of their salary, they're ineffective.

Basically, once a violent person is in a courthouse, it's too late. In order to justify having more than four officers at once, you need to set it up this way:

1. A security checkpoint must be maintained outside the courtroom, at least 100 feet away from the actual courthouse. Two officers would be in charge of this checkpoint, and both would be armed.

2. Two other officers--the second line of defense--would be inside the courthouse, ready to intervene if the first line of defense is dismantled. One officer would be at the entrance to the actual courthouse, while the other officer would be at the exit.

Doing it this way, the police can better justify paying officers lots of money to sit around and scan briefcases and small items. (So far, my most interesting experience with courtroom security has been when an officer confiscated my keychain bottle opener without telling me.)

Right now, courtroom security only protects us from stupid criminals. The smart criminals, if motivated, would have a field day in almost any courtroom in California, especially if two assassins/criminals work together (one slipping in from the exit door, which has no security checkpoint, while another comes through the front door).

Update: I forgot to mention that the Presiding Judge compared the highly paid and numerous officers to an insurance policy, i.e., you don't think you need all that coverage until you actually do. While that sounds reasonable, it doesn't really address the point of the SJ Merc article--namely, that taxpayers shouldn't be paying Cadillac rates for "insurance" when cheaper rates exist for the same or similar coverage elsewhere. It seems that we should either improve the actual security so taxpayers are getting their money's worth, or buy a cheaper "policy." We also shouldn't overpay for any service that is ineffective. If I was in charge of security, I would make improvements first in the family courts, then the criminal courts, and then the civil courts.

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