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Emphasis on safety important

Blair County Commissioner Ted Beam Jr. summed up the issue of safety at this county’s magisterial district courts correctly last week when he said, “I don’t think you can ever skimp on safety.”

Beam’s comment came as the county commissioners were announcing that they would continue to upgrade security at the district courts with money provided by the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.

According to Janice Meadows, county court administrator, AOPC currently is making additional money available for security upgrades after having initiated the money allocations about four years ago, three years prior to a September 2018 shooting at a district court in Fayette County.

Security concerns always have existed at the district court level. However, the Fayette incident thrust a much-heightened sense of urgency on the issue, and AOPC, commendably, is continuing to respond to that urgency.

Budget constraints would delay many counties — including Blair — from implementing the security measures at the pace possible with AOPC’s financial help.

In the Fayette incident, a man with a gun entered the court and opened fire, injuring four people, prior to being shot and killed by police.

District courts must be concerned about even the minor incidents that they handle, since even minor cases can escalate into something much more serious.

No one can judge fully the intentions and state of mind of people — defendants, plaintiffs, victims or anyone else — as they are reporting for a court proceeding. Likewise, it is impossible to predict what might trigger an escalation regarding what is at hand.

For the safety of the courts and the people who the courts serve, the money AOPC is providing is a godsend.

An additional comment by Beam last week added to the correct perspective he and the other commissioners have embraced: “All you would need is just one incident to prove the need for (the security measures being installed).”

A July 25 Mirror article reported on how the additional money coming from AOPC will be spent, such as for bullet-resistant glass, security cameras, outdoor lighting and materials such as wiring that will be necessary as part of the items’ installation.

The county office that receives costs and fines payments also is receiving bullet-resistant glass.

It is obvious that many county residents never envisioned a time when such beefed-up security measures ever would be needed at the “first rung” of the judicial ladder, but even before the Fayette incident an awareness already was growing that tougher security provisions would be needed, going forward.

That time is embedded solidly, and AOPC should continue to make money available to the counties.

Blair officials should keep informed of security needs at the various district courts so the county is ready to put any future AOPC money that might be received to the right use as quickly as possible.

While some Blair residents have continued to maintain the erroneous belief that Blair County is immune to many of the kinds of troubling incidents that occur elsewhere, no doubt, prior to September 2018, many Fayette residents embraced a similar attitude.

AOPC deserves praise for its security emphasis and backing it up with funds.

Blair leaders merit praise for having been out front and ready to put the new money to good use.

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