Administrative Office of The Courts Announces Recipients of Court Security Grants

December 12, 2017

The Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) began the process of modernizing a cornerstone part of communities statewide by awarding 66 Tennessee counties a total of $2 million to improve courthouse security.  The AOC received 70 grant applications requesting $5,769,923 in funds during its 2017 Court Security Grant Program. Minimum courthouse security standards were implemented in the state in the 1990s, but, before the grant program, nearly half of Tennessee counties did not meet the standards while others had serious security deficiencies.

“The Tennessee Judicial Conference (TJC) Court Security Committee rigorously reviewed the grants to maximize the impact for counties in need. Based on the data collected from the grant cycle, the AOC was able to bring dozens of counties up to current minimum security standards. We are dedicated to continuing to improve the safety of courts and citizens,” said Judge John S. McLellan, committee chair and a circuit court judge in the 2nd Judicial District.

In early August 2017, the AOC launched the one-time court security grant program. Governor Bill Haslam included $2 million in the 2017 budget, which was then appropriated by the Tennessee General Assembly last session, for these grants.The purpose of these funds is to improve courtroom security and to provide safe and secure facilities to “conduct the business and duties of the court,” as required by Tennessee Code Annotated §16-2-505(d)(1).  In the past year, there have been at least three major security breaches in Tennessee courthouses, including a serious weapons incident.

 “This grant program is a great example of all three branches of government working together to make our courthouses safer for the Tennesseans who utilize them every day. Because of this support, we were able to not only bring counties up to minimum standards, but also make much needed upgrades and improvements to existing systems. We must ensure that the business of our courts and our citizens can be done safely and efficiently,” said AOC Director Deborah Taylor Tate.

Before the grants, in many Tennessee courthouses, visitors could walk in one of multiple entrances without encountering any security measures, courtrooms lacked direct emergency communication to law enforcement, and there was no secure way to transfer or house incarcerated defendants  attending a court appointment. The funds enabled the AOC to provide counties with more than 23 hand-held metal detectors, 22 x-ray machines, 25 walk-through metal detectors, 14 security training sessions, 18 bullet proof benches, 20 panic button systems, 12 access control lock systems, 13 video arraignment systems, and four sets of surveillance equipment. 

A special committee of judges from across the state was appointed to determine the qualifications and criteria for the grant awards. Chaired by McLellan, other judges are Tammy M. Harrington (5th Judicial District), Amy V. Hollars (13th Judicial District), Jim Kyle (30th Judicial District), Eddie Lauderback (1st Judicial District), Donald E. Parish (24th Judicial District), Russell Parkes (22nd Judicial District), and John D. Wootten, Jr. (15th Judicial District).

The committee also proposed new, updated minimum court security standards in October 2017. These standards are currently in the process of being finalized and will be announced in 2018.

The counties receiving grant funding from the AOC include: Bedford, Benton, Blount, Bradley, Carroll, Carter, Cheatham, Chester, Clay, Cocke, Coffee, Decatur, DeKalb, Dickson, Dyer, Fentress, Franklin, Gibson, Grainger, Grundy,  Hamblen, Hamilton, Hardeman, Henry , Hickman, Houston, Humphreys, Jefferson, Johnson , Lake, Lawrence, Lewis, Lincoln, Loudon, Madison, Marion, Marshall, Maury, McMinn, McNairy, Meigs, Monroe, Moore , Obion, Overton, Perry, Pickett, Polk, Putnam, Rhea, Robertson, Sevier, Smith, Stewart, Sullivan, Sumner, Tipton, Trousdale, Unicoi, Union, Van Buren, Warren, Washington, Wayne, Weakley, and White.