August 20, 2014

Elyria
Partly cloudy
70°F
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Cops can carry guns in county courthouse

ELYRIA — Local police will be able to carry their guns into the courtrooms of all but two county judges beginning today.

Lorain County Common Pleas Judge Edward Zaleski and Family Court Judge David Basinski said they will continue to bar officers not assigned to security at the county Justice Center from being armed.

“I just don’t want guns in the courtroom,” Zaleski said. “The literature I’ve read says it’s a bad idea.”

Both police chiefs and rank-and-file officers have pushed for the ability to carry their firearms when they go to court since the Justice Center opened in 2004 but, until recently, officers have been required to disarm themselves before entering. Officers have still been allowed to carry knives, tasers, batons and other weapons through security.

Basinski said he believes the system that’s been in place since 2004 has kept the building and its occupants safe.
“I see no need to change,” he said.

Sheriff’s Capt. Rich Resendez said allowing police officers to remain armed will mean more law enforcement personnel will be available to help if a serious security breach occurs.

“I just don’t know that it made a whole lot of sense disarming officers,” he said.

Sheriff Phil Stammitti has the final say over security in the Justice Center, but the judges have control over what happens in their courtrooms.

Resendez said officers coming to the Justice Center have been allowed to keep their guns since the beginning of the month as long as they’re in uniform and there for a legitimate reason. Plainclothes officers and those there on personal business are still required to lock their guns in a secure room before passing through security.

Resendez said he held off on allowing officers to carry guns into courtrooms until today so the judges could determine how they wanted to handle armed officers.

Under the new policy, armed officers will now be required to check in with bailiffs in the courtrooms in which judges will allow them to carry guns.

Common Pleas Judge Mark Betleski, who heads a committee on courthouse security, said he doesn’t envision imposing additional rules beyond those Stammitti has already put in place.

But County Common Pleas Judge James Miraldi said even though he’ll allow guns in his courtroom he still has reservations, including where armed officers will be allowed to sit, how they will be trained and how deputies working courthouse security will coordinate with them during a security breach.

“I wish that we could have had all these concerns addressed earlier so that we have a complete policy that governs not only who gets through the door, but what happens after they get through the door,” he said.

Resendez said changes to the new weapons policy will be made as needed.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.