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X-ray targets safety in Federal Way's court

By JACINDA HOWARD, The Mirror

Each day, hundreds of visitors enter through the doors of the Federal Way Municipal Court — but the sole responsibility of checking them for dangerous weapons rests primarily in the hands of one security officer.

On Jan. 4, the city applied for the STOP (Services Training Officers Prosecutors) federal grant, offered by the Department of Justice’s Violence Against Women Office.

If the application is approved, an X-ray machine for the Federal Way Municipal Court will be purchased. The equipment will enhance court security, Judge Michael Morgan told the city council Jan. 2.

“This is a very important product to me and our court,” Morgan said.

Currently, security at the court is contracted out. Visitors to the municipal building must hand over bags and purses to be checked by a contracted security officer, who scans the contents for weapons. Guests must also walk through a metal detector upon entering the courthouse. They are then free to proceed with their business.

Security is stationed near the entrance to the building, but not within the courtrooms, said Stephanie Arthur, Federal Way chief prosecutor. In an emergency, police could reach the establishment within minutes, but they do not have a regular presence there, said Federal Way Police Chief Brian Wilson.

“It comes down to (whether that is) the best use for commissioned officer personnel,” he said.

Domestic violence victims

would also benefit

The Federal Way Municipal Court has not witnessed any violent outbursts in its history, but security is an area of heightened awareness.

The top concern among jurors serving at the Federal Way Municipal Court is that of security, Morgan said. A 2007 survey revealed they do not consider the court safe or secure, according to a January 2008 letter to the Federal Way City Council. Morgan suspects victims of crime may feel the same way. This could interfere with court cases.

“When you don’t feel safe, you are less willing to disclose (information),” Morgan said.

The machine would better protect all court visitors, but is expected to greatly benefit domestic violence victims. Though all cases have the potential to turn ugly, domestic violence proceedings lend themselves to more turmoil because of the rampant emotions involved, Arthur said.

The opposing parties usually know and care for each other, she said. Furthermore, domestic violence cases generally involve multiple court appearances in which the perpetrator has the opportunity to interact with his or her victim.

“Where feelings run as high as they do (in domestic violence cases), that’s where a more volatile situation could develop,” Arthur said.

Decreasing domestic violence and letting suspects know the community will not tolerate the abuse was a goal of the Federal Way police in 2007. It’s a goal the police will carry into 2008, Wilson said.

“I do really want to keep it as a front-burner issue,” he said.

An X-ray machine would assist the city and police in achieving this target. It would have the ability to electronically scan for weapons and would provide an added layer of security in the court.

“Knowing that weapons can’t be brought in (to the court) would certainly make me feel better,” Arthur said.

Between two and 10 projects will be funded with the $98,753 in grant money, according to a November 2007 letter written by Washington State Supreme Court Justice Barbara A. Madsen and supplied to Washington state courts. Federal Way will learn if its application for the machine was approved in early February.

The total cost for the equipment is $41,400, including maintenance, training, installation and warranties, according to a U.S. Testing Equipment LTD November 2007 purchase quote. The city would be expected to cover one-third of this amount.

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com.

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Security:

The Federal Way Municipal Court opened in 2000. Since that time, it has contracted its security services. The current contractor, Akela Security, has provided protection to court staff and visitors since 2003, court administrator Gina Palermo said. Generally, only one guard is on duty at any given time, Palermo said.

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