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Editorial: Courthouse cell phone policy guilty as charged

Wednesday, April 06, 2016
Chicago Sun-Times
by Editorial Board

 

Beginning this week, visitors to the Leighton Criminal Court Building at 26th Street and California Avenue cannot store their cellphones in lockers or take them into the building. | Supplied photo

Beginning this week, visitors to the Leighton Criminal Court Building at 26th Street and California Avenue cannot store their cellphones in lockers or take them into the building. | Supplied photo

 

 


It seems like a very bad idea that a crime suspect could be freed because a witness wasn’t allowed into the courthouse.

But we can easily imagine that scenario playing out at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse at 26th and California, where authorities have yanked out lockers where people could store their cellphones before going through courthouse security. For most visitors, cellphones are banned at the courthouse, an usual policy that doesn’t exist in Chicago’s federal courts, Cook County branch courts or other major courthouses.

 
 

 

EDITORIAL

We share the puzzlement that witnesses, people with court dates and other visitors are feeling this week as they show up at the Leighton Courthouse and are told they can’t bring their cell phones into the building — and that there is no place to store them. In 2016, everyone has a cell phone. Are people who arrived on public transportation supposed to throw their phones away? This is the kind of policy that gives byzantine bureaucratic decisions a bad name.

Cell phones were banned three years ago because Chief Judge Tim Evans concluded they were a security risk. Critics say the ban is unnecessary because if someone whips out a cell phone to take a picture or video, sheriff’s deputies will seize the phone and march the offender out of the building. It’s possible to use a concealed phone as a sound recording device, but all you’d wind up with is a garbled record of a court proceeding.

The storage lockers disappeared Monday morning because the Cook County Department of Facilities Management — not the courts or the sheriff — complained people were storing contraband. That solved one problem, but created another.

We see a several possible solutions here.

  • Reinstall the lockers, possibly in a spot where people already have passed through security.
  • Have a private vendor to install and manage the lockers and charge whatever is necessary to provide oversight.
  • Allow cell phones back into the building and trust sheriff’s deputies and court officers to keep people from using them.

As things stand, what we see is a ban on good sense.



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