It’s like a biennial rite of spring: Every other March, Maine’s chief justice goes before the Legislature and quietly but firmly repeats that the state’s court security budget is underfunded.

Only 20 percent of the state’s courthouses employ screening on most days, which is probably something Chief Justice Leigh Saufley doesn’t want to say too loudly, but it’s something lawmakers need to hear just the same.

Earlier this month, a man was arrested in Portland for trying to pass through security with a loaded gun. And that was a courthouse where screening was being conducted. There’s no way to know how many guns have been brought into Maine courtrooms.

We do know that there has never been a courthouse shooting in Maine, but that should give little comfort to the lawyers, clerks, judges and bailiffs who come to work every day, or the witnesses and battered wives who are compelled to come to courthouses to confront potentially dangerous people. We shouldn’t have to wait until there is a tragedy before deciding that protection of the public is an issue.

No security system is perfect, and it sometimes seems that people go overboard trying to protect against the most remote dangers.

But courthouses, with their heavy concentration of very unhappy people who are required to be present and can’t be kept out, call for an extra level of caution.

This is not a matter of hardware: Maine has the metal detectors. It’s a lack of commitment, with Legislature after Legislature failing to appropriate enough money to pay the security personnel to run the machines.

This is not Maine’s only problem that could be fixed with a little more money, but it’s one of the most volatile. This year, the Legislature should listen to the judge and make our courthouses safer.

 


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