Where's the security you're paying for?

March 13, 2008 5:48:02 PM PDT
A Harris County justice of the peace is warning us that his courtroom isn't as safe as it should be. And we've learned how you are paying for security improvements that aren't being made. The state of Texas says it can make JP courts safer three dollars at a time. It's part of the fee you pay when you are convicted of anything from a traffic ticket on up in a JP court. Three dollars from hundreds of thousands of people adds up, but doesn't do much good if it isn't spent.

"I hate to show you this," said Justice of the Peace Kent Adams.

Judge Adams isn't all that excited to reveal just how unsecure his courthouse is.

"If someone did come in here and wanted to shoot it up, there's nothing to stop it," he said.

He's not just talking to us. For seven years, he tells us he's pressed commissioner's court for more security at all 16 JP courts in Harris County.

"Maybe I shouldn't be telling you this, but we have no cameras, period," he said.

And no walk through metal detectors. His court heard 82,000 cases last year. Security for all those people -- jurors, witnesses, lawyers defendants -- is limited to two bailiffs and a metal detecting wand.

"This is supposed to be our total deterrent, but it doesn't work all the time," said Judge Adams.

None of the 16 JP courts have walk through metal detectors like the courthouse downtown. But all of the JP courts collect money for court security. It's Texas law and since the fee was imposed in 1999, JP courts have collected more than $6 million in Harris county.

Since 2005, by law, $330,000 of it has been put in a fund that can only be spent on security at JP courts. Harris County hasn't spent a dime of it.

"How can you justify not spending that money if it's there?" we asked Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack.

"We provide them all with bailiffs," he answered.

Radack has heard the security complaint and knows about the unspent money. Radack doesn't think metal detectors are needed, nor would they solve the problem.

"I think all in all, you will have people saying it's an absolute waste of money," said Radack.

Commissioner El Franco Lee told us off camera metal detectors may be needed, but he will wait until a commissioners court study is wrapped up. They expect to have a plan by June. Studies are not solutions and the money is still unspent. Judge Adams is not too optimistic.

"They've done two studies here," he said. "The only thing that came out of the surveys is to change the door locks and send me a bill."

Commissioner Radack tells us metal detectors may not work. They'll create long lines of people not just waiting for court, but for the other offices in the building. And the cost to staff them greatly exceeds the cost to buy them. Commissioner's court is expected to take it up in June.

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