The Los Angeles County Marshal's Department next week will take over all security functions at the Van Nuys Municipal Court building, from operating metal detectors to patrolling parking lots and maintaining order in courtrooms.
County Marshal Robert Mann said Friday that the change was not a response to any specific incident at the Municipal and Superior Court complex, which in the past three years has been the scene of a fatal shootout and a stabbing.
But, he said, security will be improved by consolidating the force instead of having three types of officers--marshals, County Safety Police and private guards--sharing responsibility for the 10-floor courthouse.
The new arrangement was announced Friday by Mann and Presiding Los Angeles Judicial District Judge Karl W. Jaeger.
"We began to see there was a hole being created because of the lack of unity in command," Mann said.
Currently, he said, security officers responding to an emergency might be following different orders and be unable to communicate with each other because they carry radios tuned to different frequencies.
"This gives us one security force," he said of the changes due to begin Monday. "When something goes down you need one person in charge. It will improve security."
In 1988, a man with a history of mental problems, armed with a pistol, attempted to take a prosecutor hostage in a municipal courtroom and was killed in a shootout that prompted the installation of metal detectors at the courthouse doors. Earlier this year, a woman was stabbed and wounded by her estranged husband while she was walking outside the Superior Court building to a bungalow courtroom.
The consolidation of security forces into one will result in the assignment of six additional marshal's service security officers and one deputy marshal to Van Nuys Municipal Court, Mann said. The security officers, who are unarmed, will replace unarmed private guards, and will be supervised by the deputy marshal, replacing a county police officer.
Deputy marshals are already assigned inside the courtrooms, so the new personnel will be used to operate metal detectors located at the front door. Both grades of marshal's officers will for the first time also walk patrols in parking garages, courthouse hallways and the plaza outside, officials said.
"The security will be better inside and outside the building," Jaeger said.
Mann said the private security and county police officers who have been working at the courthouse will be reassigned to guard other county buildings.
In addition to the Van Nuys Courthouse, the marshal's service is in the process of taking similar steps at nine other courthouses in the county, including municipal courtrooms housed in a building next to the main San Fernando Courthouse.
The move to consolidate security measures at all the municipal courthouses will save about $300,000 in administrative costs annually, even after hiring or reassigning the additional marshal's officers needed, Mann said.
No change will take place in Superior Court buildings, which are under the jurisdiction of the Sheriff's Department.
Praise for the change came from Van Nuys Municipal Judge Jessica Perrin Silvers, who observed the news conference. Three years ago, as a deputy city attorney, she was grabbed by a man with a gun as she entered a courtroom. She was unharmed in the ensuing shootout, in which the gunman was killed and a deputy marshal wounded.
Though metal detectors were added to courthouse doors after the shooting, Silvers called Friday's announcement another step in the right direction.
"I think it does improve security," she said. "Having one central control will make security more effective."