Security vs. convenience at the D.C. courthouse

Friday, November 26, 2010; 5:59 PM

IN THE SAME WEEK that the District's local court came under criticism for new security procedures that produced long lines, its federal counterparts were being faulted for insufficient attention to security. The juxtaposition captures the dilemma of convenience vs. safety that confronts those in charge of security in a post-Sept. 11 world. Striking the right balance requires appropriate procedures and proper training by officials but also cooperation and understanding from the public.

Grumbling about heightened security is not confined to airports, where some travelers are objecting to what they see as invasive searches. The D.C. Superior Court in recent days has been the scene of long queues of people waiting to enter the busy courthouse. The combination of new machines that take longer to screen and colder weather that brings out heavy coats produced waits of as long as an hour. The Post's Keith L. Alexander reported that trials have been delayed, with defendants, and even jurors, stuck out in the cold.

It's hard to fault officials for addressing security gaps, but waits of up to an hour - for people who have no choice but to be there - are not acceptable. Improvements are needed, particularly in light of reports that tests of court security showed it possible to smuggle weapons into the courthouse. Similar problems of inadequate equipment and improper training are at the heart of a blistering report by the Justice Department's inspector general into security issues at federal courthouses.

D.C. Superior Court officials are not insensitive to the inconveniences caused by the new system and are collecting information with an eye to making adjustments. The hope is that as personnel get used to the new equipment, waits will get shorter. If not, a determination should be made about whether more staffing or equipment is needed.

Officials also should consider sensible suggestions such as having separate arrangements for those handicapped by age or physical condition and, possibly, for jurors.

For its part, the public could help the process go more smoothly by arriving early and leaving at home cameras and tape recorders. Finally, we should keep in mind that it's our safety that officials are seeking to safeguard.

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