Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy asked State Rep. Chris Hurst (D-Enumclaw) Monday to study a state law requiring county officials to take knives and other dangerous weapons into safekeeping while their owners visit courthouses.
In the meantime, a safety committee is reviewing plans to increase security at the county’s three courthouses in compliance with state law, McCarthy said.
County officials announced earlier this month they would no longer hold Mace, knives, clubs, flammable liquids, toy guns or replicas, handcuffs or handcuff keys and a long list of other objects for visitors.
There is an exception, under state law, for guns, which can be checked at the door. But that exception also applies to other kinds of weapons.
It’s long been a practice to receipt guns, knives and similar items that are banned from the courthouse and allow their owners to retrieve them on the way out.
The county’s new security procedures were designed to increase courthouse safety and make the visitor screening process less costly and more efficient, McCarthy said.
People entering the busy County-City Building in Downtown Tacoma and other courthouses are subject to airport-style scrutiny, which includes walking through a metal detector and putting your bags on an X-ray machine conveyor belt.
You can read about courthouse screening procedures here.
The new rules were to take effect on Wednesday.
But McCarthy put the plan on hold indefinitely and ordered more study after The News Tribune pointed out that state law – RCW 9.41.300 – directs officials to “receive weapons for safekeeping, during the owner’s visit to restricted areas of the building.”
That portion of the Revised Code of Washington defines weapons as “any firearm, explosive (as defined in another part of the law), or any weapon of the kind usually known as slung shot, sand club, or metal knuckles, or any knife, dagger, dirk, or similar weapon that is capable of causing death or bodily injury and is commonly used with the intent to cause death or bodily injury.”
The county doesn’t intend to run afoul of state law but it does want to make the courthouse safe, and officials believe visitors ought to leave weapons in their cars or at home when they have business at the County-City Building or any other court facility, security manager Mike Dorman said last week.
The County-City Building houses Superior, Municipal, District and family courts as well as a number of other legal services. It’s also home to the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department and it’s the seat of Pierce County government.
The county also runs a Juvenile Court at Remann Hall and a District Court at South 96th and South Hosmer streets.
Hurst couldn’t be reached for comment this morning. He is a former police detective who often champions public safety issues in the Legislature.
McCarthy said Monday evening she hopes people visiting courthouses will use common sense when visiting and not arrive with items that are banned from the buildings and must be left at the door.