Metal detectors at the courthouse wouldn’t have stopped the sniper shooting of a judge in Reno, Nev. earlier this week. But it shows the need for them in every courthouse in the country.

Judges make decisions that are sure to make some people angry. Very angry.

They can become the targets of mentally disturbed people who may want revenge. The same goes for district attorneys who prosecute felons as well as people who testify against criminals. Criminals themselves may need protection when being tried for some heinous crimes.

The case for better security at Mercer County Courthouse was made again recently by Sheriff Bill Romine and District Attorney James Epstein after deputies discovered two knives in the pocket of a man in a courtroom. Whether they were intentionally brought in or not, the point is made that it can happen.

Without metal detectors, knives and guns could easily be carried into the courthouse. Even worse, a bomb could be hauled in with such lax security. That puts every law enforcement official, every courthouse employee as well as the general public at risk.

Even the county commissioners are vulnerable, yet they have so far failed to take steps to assure the safety of everyone there.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, we have become security conscious in this country. While terrorist attacks may be unlikely in the local courthouse, homegrown violence can’t be ruled out.

Incidents like the shootings in an Atlanta courthouse that killed a judge, court stenographer and a sheriff’s deputy bring home the possibility of problems in a courthouse.

Costly? Sure. Romine estimates the initial cost at about $250,000 for the installation of metal detectors, centralized screening and salaries. He says the cost would be about $200,000 a year after that for deputies’ salaries, maintenance and upgrades on equipment.

With some creative shifting of personnel, we think the costs could be less. However, what price do you put on human life?

Even though the state allows some forms of gambling, the chance the commissioners are taking by not boosting security is a risk not worth taking. It’s akin to riding a motorcycle without a helmet. Chances are nothing will happen. But if it does …

The county currently has a huge budget surplus upwards of $6 million. And since commissioners have refused to cut taxes as we earlier recommended, it should grow even bigger. Using a small portion of that tax money to cover the costs of protecting the lives of people there certainly sounds reasonable.

Mercer County Common Pleas President Judge Francis J. Fornelli said he thinks it is time to take the recommended security measures. He pointed out that most other courthouses in this region have much better security. His point that the dregs of society often parade through the courthouse on their way to trial is well-taken.

Commissioners have wasted our tax money on far less important things. It’s time to invest in a courthouse security system that will assure the safety of everyone who walks into the building.

No security system will ever be foolproof. But in these volatile times, having no security system at all is proof of fools.

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