Ctnewsjunkie file photo
Joe Gaetano, president of IBPO Local 731 (Ctnewsjunkie file photo)

HARTFORD, CT — The Judiciary Committee watered down legislation Friday that would have allowed judicial marshals to carry firearms in courthouses and turned it into a study.

The new language asks the Chief Court Administrator, who opposed arming judicial marshals, to study security procedures employed at courthouses and report back to the committee no later than Jan. 1, 2018. The bill, which also increases the penalty for assaults of public transit employees and off-duty police officers, passed 29-12.

Joe Gaetano, president of IBPO Local 731, said he was “disappointed” the committee made the changes. IBPO Local 731 is the union that represents Connecticut’s judicial marshals. The group supported arming the marshals.

“In these times of unpredictable violence, Connecticut’s courthouse security forces must be better prepared,” Gaetano said Friday. “It is both costly and insufficient for the Judicial Branch to bring in state police after incidents have occurred. Under previous administrations, armed judicial marshals protected courthouses and prisoner transfers, and we will continue to advocate for that ability.”

However, he acknowledged the study will keep the issue alive for at least another year if the General Assembly approves it.

The Judicial Branch testified against the proposal.

Chief Court Administrator Patrick Carroll III said the greatest security challenge has more to do with staffing than guns.

“Budget cuts to the Judicial Branch have decimated our Marshal ranks. We operate today with 100 fewer Judicial Marshals than we employed one year ago, and one year ago we already employed fewer Marshals than we needed,” Carroll said in written testimony.

He said there are about 190 marshal vacancies.

Carroll argued that funding those vacancies would do more to bolster security than giving marshals guns.

Gaetano said they aren’t looking to arm every judicial marshal.

“They should not be in the courtrooms or in the lockup areas, but they should be at the front doors and on our transport teams,” Gaetano told the committee.

Others who opposed arming judicial marshals included the Supreme Court Police Department.

“The job of a Judicial Marshal is similar to that of a TSA agent,” Charles A. Della Rocco, the president of Council 4 AFSCME Local 749, said. “They are providing security services that include checking bags and persons in an attempt to make sure that no weapons are brought into the buildings and court rooms. Putting a gun on their hip only makes every encounter they have an encounter with a gun. For inexperienced non-law enforcement personnel, this is a recipe for disaster.”

He said he believes there needs to be guns, but it shouldn’t be the marshals who should have them. Della Rocco said the Supreme Court Police Department should be expanded so they could become Judicial Branch Police Officers. He said as police officers they have to continue their firearm training and maintain their certification. He said he would welcome any marshals who are former police officers to join the police force because it would cost less to get them up to speed.

Gaetano took exception to Della Rocco’s remarks.

“The half-dozen security staff at the state museum and the Supreme Court have nearly the same training as the judicial marshals, so it’s ironic that their union president is taking issue with this proposed legislation,” Gaetano said. “Many of our marshals have military and police backgrounds, and under the original legislative proposal the select marshals who carried arms would have been appropriately certified.”

The judicial marshals, who are peace officers, are asking for the firearm training.

Gaetano said they know the courthouses and the security risks and believe arming the judicial marshals is the best path forward.