Courthouse Controversy: BSO battling Broward County over security at new building

WSVN — It's a battle between two heavyweights: the Broward Sheriff's Office versus Broward County. At issue, millions of dollars and a disagreement over whether the brand-new courthouse will be safe for visitors when it opens. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero has the exclusive.

While on trial for rape in 2005, Brian Nichols went on a shooting rampage inside an Atlanta courthouse, murdering a judge, court reporter, and a sheriff's deputy. It is a worst-case scenario, and a frightening reminder of what law enforcement patrolling the halls of justice can face.

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel: "We have to plan for a possible terrorist attack, we need to be vigilant. We talk about this with our deputies all the time."

But as 7News has learned exclusively, Sheriff Scott Israel says he may not have enough deputies to adequately protect visitors when Broward's new $220 million courthouse opens early next year.

Sheriff Scott Israel: "People would be unsafe in the new courthouse. We would not be as safe as we could be, as we should be."

BSO is sounding the alarm after failing to reach an agreement with Broward County on a security plan for the building being built in Downtown Fort Lauderdale.

BSO Lt. Col. Robert Drago: "We believe that if we were to have a critical event occur, that we would not have enough staffing to address it."

BSO says it needs 63 more employees than the county is proposing. The bulk of the battle is in the number of bailiffs and deputies. The new tower has twice as many floors as the old one, 20 versus 10, and with around 1.3 million visitors a year, Israel says, the public could be at risk.  

Sheriff Scott Israel: "My job is to make that courthouse as secure as possible. The only reason — the only reason — that the courthouse will not be as secure as I want it to be, is because of money."

But Broward's top executive disagrees with its top cop.

Broward County Administrator Bertha Henry: "I do not believe that that courthouse is unsafe."

Broward County Administrator Bertha Henry says the new building was designed with security in mind, and is equipped with $8.5 million in security features, including many more cameras.

Bertha Henry: "There will be a lot of deputies in that building, so we're not suggesting that you don't need them. What we are suggesting is that you need a balanced approach to security. It shouldn't all be focused on people carrying guns."

Henry says independent court security experts have reviewed the county's plan, and while that plan does include more deputies, she says there is not enough money to give BSO all of what it wants.

Bertha Henry: "To put more money into the courthouse, I would have to cut parks, or libraries, or raise taxes."

Carmel Cafiero: "BSO and the county meet Tuesday to try and iron out their differences in what is called a shade meeting. Since sensitive security issues will be discussed, that meeting is not open to the public. Carmel Cafiero, 7News."

IF YOU HAVE A STORY FOR CARMEL TO INVESTIGATE:

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E-mail: clue@wsvn.com
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