Court officer union heads claim that courts are in crisis and ready to explode
Court officers have potentially the most dangerous jobs in the legal community as they are essential in keeping judges, lawyers, litigants, jurors and other court staff safe on a daily basis. It’s not an easy one, either, as hardly a month goes by without reports of a court officer being assaulted.
However, over the past 10 years, Brooklyn has seen its court officer numbers decrease by approximately 33 percent. Now, it’s at the point where some of the courts have become a powder keg, according to union officials.
Patrick Cullen, president of the NYS Supreme Court Officers Association, and Dennis Quirk, president of the NYS Court Officers Association held a press conference in front of the Brooklyn Supreme Court, Criminal Term, on Tuesday with state Sen. Marty Golden to warn the public of what they call a crisis that is ready to explode.
“We’ve been attempting to speak to our agency, the OCA, and the chief administrative judge for the past two years,” said Quirk. “We’re over 350 to 400 court officers short.”
Both unions, with dozens of members standing behind them in front of 320 Jay St., called for an increase in resources, including more court officers.
The unions represent about 3,500 officers. They are claiming that Chief Judge Janet DiFiore and Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks have refused to meet with them.
“Sooner or later someone is going to be killed, and their death will be on the plate of the chief judge and the chief administrative judge,” Cullen said.
The Office of Court Administration issued the following statement: “The safety and security of our court facilities is paramount. We are extremely confident in the dedication, training, skill and professionalism of all our 4,000 court officers throughout New York City and state in maintaining order and keeping the courts safe and secure for the judges, lawyers, court staff, litigants and jurors who use them on a daily basis.
An OCA spokesperson cited the fact that officers discovered a person who attempted to bring a fake grenade into a Queens courthouse in June as an example that court officers are up to the task.
“Their vigilance is what caught the novelty inert hand grenade before it was brought into the Queens courthouse, something that they handle with ease on a daily basis throughout the court system,” the statement continued.
The timing of the press conference was meant to coincide with the implementation of the “Raise the Age” law, which will prevent 16- and 17-year-olds from being tried as adults in NYS, the second to last state in the country to implement such a law. It goes into effect starting Oct. 1.
That law means that kids who would previously have been sent to Criminal Court are now sent to Family Court, and the unions worry about shortages in the Family Court.
A number of judges, who asked to have their names withheld due to fear of punishment from OCA, have described the court officer shortage as “ridiculous” and explained that cases can often be held up for hours while waiting for court officers to be assigned to their courtrooms.
“Courtrooms that typically had four officers now have two; OCA has hired judges and lawyers, but not court officers, and a $35 million training academy budgeted 10 years ago is unfinished,” said a statement issued by the unions leading up to Tuesday’s press conference. “Understaffing creates dangerous conditions in courtrooms and courthouse entrances. Violence is common; 60 officers are on injury leave.”
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