PLANS FOR the new Anne Arundel County Circuit Courthouse, set to open in December 1996, have been public for a long time, so one has to wonder why County Executive John Gary's administration seems surprised to learn the extent of security needs for this building.
A spokesman for Mr. Gary said the administration assumed that state-of-the-art security equipment planned for the renovation means fewer sheriff's deputies would be needed to protect the courthouse.
Somehow, the Gary administration forgot that new technology is a supplement to, not a replacement for, human beings. It takes people to monitor the video cameras and X-ray machines. And a machine has yet to be invented capable of apprehending out-of-control prisoners.
County Sheriff George F. Johnson says the finished courthouse will require 22 additional deputies and/or court security officers, a figure supported by two different outside analyses. Not all of those will be needed next December; only the first phase of the expansion will be complete then and only 11 of the 18 planned courtrooms will be ready.
As soon as the first phase opens, however, the courthouse will need people to staff new X-ray machines and surveillance equipment. The expanded courthouse will be much larger than the existing one, meaning more halls to patrol. Extra guards will also be needed to staff the courthouse 24 hours, instead of the current 12 hours, to protect new computerized record-keeping systems.
Mr. Gary is dismayed at the prospect of having to spend more money on courthouse protection. But this is a matter of public safety, which ranks as the top priority of local government. To reduce costs, Sheriff Johnson suggests hiring court security officers, who make up to 25 percent less than sworn deputies and do not have arrest powers, to handle the least strenuous security tasks. This makes sense.
Neither taxpayers nor Mr. Gary should cynically conclude that the need for more deputies and security officers means the high-tech security equipment is a waste. The equipment can do some things people can't, and vice versa. A safe, secure courthouse demands a combination of manpower and technology.