When my granddaughter was born, the doctor attached a little plastic tag, which I assumed
had some medical purpose. It didn't. It was a security device. You don't hear about many
babies being lifted from hospitals around here, but it could happen. So newborns are wired.
Just in case.
Ever notice those chain-link guards on the sides of overpasses? Each one costs us
taxpayers about $75,000 and is designed to keep lunatics from dropping bricks on motorists.
This doesn't happen often, but we know it's possible. So we build these expensive eyesores.
Just in case.
Which brings me to the Hamilton County Courthouse. What a great, big, beautiful monster
of a place. Marble and echoes everywhere. Lots of bad people on their best behavior. If you
aren't a regular, the corridors of justice are daunting.
For the past two weeks, the regulars, if they're employees, flash ID cards and enter
without an electronic frisking. Everybody else has to walk through metal detectors and put
their stuff - packages, briefcases, purses - on a conveyor belt running to an X-ray.
Not everybody thought it was necessary to blemish the beautiful arched hallway with more
On one side were the judges, who almost unanimously said that it was just a matter of
time before somebody got hurt. On the other was Sheriff Simon Leis Jr., who thought having
deputies patrol the hallways was protection enough.
Since I had important and dangerous business at Burrito Joe's on Court Street anyway, I
stopped in to see how it works.
The line wasn't too bad. Some short, smart-alecky lawyer with a bad haircut stood behind
me, whistling nervously. As we approached the conveyor belt, he lobbed his attache case over
my shoulder. ''I'm late,'' he said.
Some of the attorneys have been complaining about delays, according to Capt. Dan Kern,
who's in charge of security. ''But most people will get used to the idea that they just have
to get started a little earlier.''
A roll of blue tickets, the kind that get you three tries at the goldfish booth at St.
Mary's Festival, is coiled on one end of the X-ray machine. Used to check weapons, they're
just temporary. Plastic chips have been ordered, so it will be more like a coat check.
About 130 weapons a day
So far, Capt. Kern says, ''we've been averaging about 130 weapons a day.''
That's not as bad as it sounds. It includes pocketknives, nail files, Mace and stun
devices. ''No guns yet, and no concealed weapons. But we don't know how many people leave when
they see that they have to go through security.''
Some weapons don't look like weapons. The sheriff's department subscribes to magazines
such as Soldier of Fortune to check the latest in arcane weaponry. The officers have to look
for knives disguised as belt buckles, lipsticks and pens.
''One day, we sent a thousand packages through X-ray in an hour. We rotate people so that
they stay fresh and alert,'' Capt. Kern says. The department tries to relieve them after about
I watched deputies politely insist that everybody queue up. Even attorneys in a hurry.
The deputies were polite, fresh and alert.
A friend of mine says this is a big waste of time and money to protect judges who, after
all, volunteer for their jobs. I watched the crowd, which included several women with small
children, clerks, some major and minor crooks - not to mention good, old irreplaceable me.
''So who will be the first to die? The juror, the child on the courthouse tour, the judge
who passes the tough sentence? When it happens,'' Judge Ann Marie Tracey said 1ï years
ago, pleading for the increased security, ''it will seem unexpected. But it is
Although more people have been shot inside a trucking company than in this courthouse,
there's potential for danger. So besides spending about $350,000 to install these checkpoints,
we will spend about $360,000 a year for the deputies on duty there. The gates are ugly. And
you have to stand in line.
Just in case.
Laura Pulfer's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or
fax to 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU-FM (91.7 MHz) and as a regular
commentator on NPR's Morning Edition.