Indianapolis Star

New Court Alarms Not Yet Working

July 18, 2005
Federal grant didn't include the equipment needed to send a call straight to police radios.

By Vic Ryckaert

In case of an emergency, don't push the newly installed panic buttons in Marion County's courtrooms.

The $35,000 system designed to boost security in the City-County Building does not work. The problem, officials say, is the federal grant that paid for the new alarms did not include needed radio equipment to immediately broadcast alerts to police radios.

Marion County's cash-strapped court system does not have the money, about $16,000, to buy the radio equipment, either.

Superior Court Judge Cale Bradford, who presides over the county's 32 superior courts, says the Metropolitan Emergency Communications Agency ought to provide the needed equipment.

In an appeal to the agency that operates the county's 911 system and police radios, Bradford said: "On behalf of the over 70 judicial officers and thousands of individuals that visit the City-County Building every day, would you please provide us a lousy four police radios so we can secure the safety of these thousands of individuals?"

Ray Raney, the communications agency's director, said he was not aware that the courts had asked for the radios. He said his agency might have some spares available for the courts to borrow until they can purchase their own.

"I'd have to check into it and get back to them," Raney said.

The old alarm system, which still operates, sends an alert to a security office on the first floor of the City-County Building. From there, a deputy must relay the alarm over the radio.

Deputies would be able to respond more quickly under the new system. One push of a button is supposed to send a prerecorded message over police radios alerting officers to an emergency and giving the location of the courtroom.

The panic alarm system came to Marion County thanks to a $500,000 Homeland Security grant that added alarms and metal detectors to courthouses in 49 counties, said Robert Champion, security adviser for the Judicial Conference of Indiana.

The equipment, which comes with analog radios, is working properly in the other counties, Champion said. Marion County, however, uses digital radios that aren't compatible with the system.

Superior Court Judge Cynthia Ayers said the alarm is sorely needed in the 13 civil courts and circuit court, where judges typically preside without security officers present.

"We are very grateful for the Office of Homeland Security to give us the new technology," Ayers said. "But we're extremely frustrated that we can't go online with it."

The civil courts handle cases of child custody, divorce and other emotionally charged events. There are times when anger erupts into violence, Ayers said.

"That's why we were thrilled to get the wireless system," Ayers said. "We were on our way to making things safer in this building."