Courtroom shooting prompts concerns in Oklahoma

Saturday, March 12th 2005, 11:49 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A deadly courtroom shooting in Atlanta underscores the need for increased security precautions at the Oklahoma County courthouse, county officials said.

Oklahoma County's courthouse and adjoining county office building have several public entrances _ none of which are manned by security personnel or require visitors to pass through a metal detector.

In the Atlanta courthouse, a defendant wrestled a gun from a law enforcement officer and allegedly shot and killed a judge and two other court officials.

``These incidents sure bring home a point that our plan needs to be completed so that we can secure our courthouse,'' Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel said.

Whetsel said he expects that within six months, security will be tightened at the courthouse. He said the funding for things such as metal detectors and X-ray machines is in place.

The sheriff said an architectural firm is in the process of developing a plan for the courthouse. Once the plan is complete, implementation will begin, he said.

In Tulsa, county commissioners' Chief Deputy Paul Wilkening said officials are pleased with the screening that Securitas Security Service USA Inc. provides at courthouse checkpoints, where metal detectors are in use.

Security personnel have ``erred on the side of caution'' in keeping sharp objects and ``anything that can be used as a weapon'' outside the building, Wilkening said. And inside, ``we have the sheriff's deputies.''

Tulsa County District Judge David Peterson said one major security upgrade was the development of a video system of arraignments during the 1990s, which allows a judge in a courtroom to communicate with an inmate who remains at the jail.

U.S. District Judge Terence Kern said the Page Belcher building, which doubles as a post office, is one of the more unsecured federal courthouses but that a replacement could be 12 to 15 years away.

For judges at the Oklahoma County courthouse, tightened security would be a welcome sight.

``It's my belief all the judges have some major concerns about the lack of overall security,'' Oklahoma County District Judge Ray Elliott said. ``The judges in this courthouse are on the record expressing concern.''