January 20, 2022
Final Reports
San Mateo Courts - Civil Grand Jury

2002-2003 Report:

Courthouse Security

Summary | Background | Findings | Conclusions | Recommendations| Responses


Security has been a topic of national and local discussion and for several years the Grand Jury has investigated security at the county courthouses. The Grand Jury, following inspections of the Hall of Justice and Records (County Courthouse), Northern Branch Courthouse, Central Branch Courthouse, and Hillcrest Juvenile Courthouse, has determined that the recommendations of the Grand Jury in 2002 pertaining to security measures have not been fully acted upon. Although the Sheriff’s Office agreed that security in the courthouses should be enhanced, there has been no follow through to see that needed changes have been made.

Issue: Has the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office implemented the security plans for the Hall of Justice and Records, Northern Branch Courthouse, Central Branch Courthouse and the Hillcrest Juvenile Courthouse recommended by the Grand Jury in 2002?


Since 1994, the Grand Jury has expressed concern over security measures throughout county buildings, specifically, the Hall of Justice and Records (County Courthouse), the Central Branch Courthouse, Northern Branch Courthouse, and the Hillcrest Juvenile Courthouse. In 2002, the Grand Jury report recommended seven actions be taken to enhance security at the courthouses. The Sheriff responded to the recommenda­tions as follows:

  • The county should develop formal quantitative security standards and hire an independent third party to test and evaluate courthouse building perimeter security systems based on those standards at regular intervals. Sheriff agreed.

  • As the security of the court facilities is linked to overall building security, the current “Court Security Plan”, which was developed in accordance with the California Rules of Court, should be reviewed as part of Recommendation 1, above. Sheriff agreed.

  • The Sheriff should review existing security standards and make appropriate changes. Sheriff agreed.

  • The Building Security Work Group should meet regularly and require a represen­tative of the county’s contracted security service to attend. Sheriff agreed.

  • The Sheriff should improve management of the contract security service by hold­ing quarterly meetings with the county’s contracted security service to: (1) identify and discuss issues, (2) review progress on action items, (3) define and reinforce standards for performance evaluation, and (4) identify necessary con­tract amendments. Sheriff stated: “I disagree in part with this finding. While I agree that our goal should always be to improve and refine the security service, this recommendation implies that this has not been occurring.”

  • The County should install video camera-recorder systems to monitor the front and rear entrances of the Hall of Justice and Records for purposes of deterrence, periodic audits, and follow-up investigations. Sheriff agreed.

  • The Sheriff made no response to the recommendation that the County should require and provide compulsory refresher security training for all badge holders.
In February 2003, the Grand Jury requested that the Sheriff’s Office provide specific details of actions taken to comply with the recommendations to which he agreed in his official response to the Grand Jury report of 2002.

The Grand Jury inspected security at the County Courthouse, Northern Branch Court­house, Central Branch Courthouse, and Hillcrest Juvenile Courthouse. Security staff was interviewed at each location.


The level of security varies from building to building, as displayed in Table 1.

Table 1
Security at San Mateo County Courthouses
Security Measure
County Courthouse
Northern Branch Courthouse
Central Branch Courthouse
Hillcrest Juvenile Courthouse
Entrance Checkpoint Security
Badge Control Access
External Cameras
Corridor Cameras
Courtroom Cameras
3 of 22 in Operation
Perimeter Alarm
Where Courtroom Panic Alarm Sounds
4th floor security office and lobby checkpoint
County communication County Courthouse
24 hour San Mateo County Health Center operator
Probation Department at Juvenile Hall
Metal Detectors
Building Access
1 of 8 courtrooms
1 of 3 courtrooms
1 (common access) for 3 courtrooms)

As noted in Table 1, 19 of the 22 cameras in the courtrooms of the County Courthouse were not operational. None of the cameras can record. No security personnel were viewing the security monitors at the time of the Grand Jury’s inspection.

The Sheriff’s response to the Grand Jury’s request, stated:
  • A security consulting firm has been engaged to assist with the security project at the Hall of Justice and Records and the Northern Branch Court. The consult­ant’s report determined that due to the amount of training the Sheriff’s Office received in the area of security, the annual review of the Court Security Plan, and the Court Security Handbook, that the Sheriff is the expert in the area of security and should have the final word.

  • Applications for grants or outside funding for upgrade and installation of secu­rity cameras and recorders have been unsuccessful. No further attempts for funding this project are being taken.


The Sheriff has not complied with many of the Grand Jury recommendations of 2002. Security at all courthouse facilities has not substantially improved over last year despite agreement of the Sheriff’s Office with five of the Grand Jury recommendations.


  1. The Sheriff should within the next six months complete the annual review of the Court Security Plan for all courthouses and present it to the judges for approval and installation.
County Courthouse
  1. The Sheriff should immediately, without further delay or waiting for grant funds, install operational upgraded surveillance cameras and recorders

  2. Install, upgrade or repair, the existing system so that monitors and camera-recorders can view areas in need of security and ensure that they are constantly maintained.

  3. Ensure that security monitors are constantly supervised by trained personnel who can respond as incidents and situations develop.
Northern Branch Courthouse, Central Branch Courthouse and Hillcrest Juvenile Courthouse
  1. The Sheriff should install security systems that control the entrance and egress of the public and that can monitor all courtrooms for safety and security.

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