Friday, September 14, 2001
U.S. Marshal, Citing Security, Bans Cellphone Use in Federal Courts
By KIMBERLY EDDS, Staff Writer
The U.S. marshal for the Central District yesterday banned the use of cellphones in all federal courts within the district as part of heightened security in light of Tuesday’s terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.
Marshal Tony Perez said he was not sure how long the new policy would be in place, but that it would stand “through the remainder of this crisis.”
“We’re going to keep this until we figure it is safe to go back to normal, whatever that means,” Perez told the METNEWS.
Without the necessary resources to collect cellphones and keep them while their owners are inside the courthouses, he said people would be placed on an honor system not to activate their cellphones inside court buildings.
“We tried to reach a compromise,” Perez said.
The order for the ban was made after concerns were raised about certain weapons disguised as cellphones entering courthouses. These weapons, which are triggered by pressing the phone’s buttons with bullets being fired from the antenna, have the ability to fire up to four rounds of .22-caliber ammunition, he said.
The ban applies to all district and bankruptcy court facilities in the seven-county district, as well as the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals location in Pasadena.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which is responsible for security in the Los Angeles Superior Court, is aware of the problem but has left policy decisions to the courts, a spokesman said.
“It varies from court to court,” Sheriff’s Deputy Darren Harris said. “Some judges allow them and some don’t.”
A handgun disguised as a cellphone would be easily detected by an x-ray machine operator, he added. Some x-ray operators are so skilled that they can tell the brand of the cellphone just by looking at it on the machine screen, Harris said.
Most people inside the courthouses turn their phones off or place their phones on vibrate mode upon entering the courthouse even without a set policy, the spokesman noted.
But Harris, a former x-ray machine operator, said the department is working to increase security and ensure that everything goes through the x-ray machine. Efforts are being made to ensure that loose items are not placed in plastic baskets moved to the other side of the security check without passing through the machine, he said.
“We want to see that every pack of cigarettes and cell phone goes through that machine,” Harris said.
County courthouses are staffed with county security guards, Sheriff’s deputies, and sergeant supervisors, he explained.
“I would say it’s very safe,” Harris said.
But Harris said that cellphones are not the only disguised weapons that law enforcement have to be aware of.
“We’ve gotten bicycle seat post guns, pen guns,” Harris said. “We’ve seen everything and those kinds of cellphones are out there.”
Weapons screening in Los Angeles County trial courts has only been in place since 1996 when the court’s Security Policy, which includes weapons screening, was adopted.
But funding issues have caused a delay in implementation and many of the county’s courthouses have yet to fully implement the policy.
The Superior Court’s Rio Hondo facility in El Monte just recently began weapons screening at its courthouse June 1, five years after the security policy was adopted and many courthouses just recently began screening employees.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company