Friday, December 11, 2009

Traffic squad switches to court security

If you've been to Municipal Court lately, you may have noticed a lot more police officers milling around. This story from our monthly Informant newsletter explains why:

Sergeant Ed Mulloy spent the past 11 of his nearly 28 years on the department as a supervisor in Traffic Enforcement. On November 9, his assignment changed, taking him to the Kansas City Municipal Court – a much different responsibility. He and eight officers, all from Traffic Enforcement, are now responsible for courthouse security; the previous responsibility assumed by one armed and several unarmed security guards.

The courthouse sees about 2,000 people come through its doors daily; some for traffic violations and others for more serious offenses. The building houses nine courtrooms with eight in session at any given time. The eight judges working there have requested the aid of the PD for some time, according to Sergeant Mulloy. They and prosecutors alike felt threatened at times and did not feel that the available security offered adequate protection from the potential danger.

Their concerns are understandable when you consider that the only thing between the attorneys and judges and the spectators in each courtroom is a wooden bar. The intimidation factor for those on the other side of that bar is high. And many of those being tried are facing serious charges like aggravated assault and domestic violence.

At the October Board of Police Commissioners meeting, Chief James Corwin explained that the department recently stopped making officers go to all court appearances and only required them to show up at those in which testimony is given. While it saved officers from a lot of down-time, it also meant far fewer of them were in the court at any given time. Chief Corwin said Judges and court staff felt significantly less safe with the dearth of men and women in blue.

Things are different now. Armed police officers patrol the hallways offering peace of mind and providing intervention when a situation warrants it. So far, Sergeant Mulloy says they’ve intervened in a few fights occurring between people exiting a courtroom. They also have arrested some individuals with felony warrants. The response, he says, has been overwhelmingly positive from both the judges and prosecutors alike.

As a long-time traffic officer, the experience has been a change for him.

“This is a whole different world,” he says, “but I like it. The weather is always perfect and the hours are great.”

The court officers also are supplementing the Downtown Footbeat when needed.