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Court bailiffs in 2 Wash. counties to be disarmed after change in state law

A change in Washington state law now requires the bailiffs to have an active commission through the state Criminal Justice Training Commission and to pass a background check

Benton County Courthouse

Benton County

By Cameron Probert
Tri-City Herald (Kennewick, Wash.)

KENNEWICK, Wash. — Benton and Franklin county courtrooms will no longer have armed bailiffs starting Friday.

In the wake of changes in Washington state law, Benton County Sheriff Tom Croskrey said he will remove his “limited commission” that allows the eight bailiffs to carry guns or tasers on the job at the Benton County Justice Center in Kennewick.

The change is effective Dec. 1.

In the Tri-Cities, bailiffs work in the Superior Courts in Benton and Franklin counties to keep order in the courtroom and protect judges and other officials, including jurors.

Local county officials say a change in Washington state law now requires the bailiffs to have an active commission through the state Criminal Justice Training Commission and to pass a background check.

While all of the Tri-Cities bailiffs have worked as either police or corrections officers, most have retired and their official certification has lapsed. If they want to renew it, they would need to attend the law enforcement academy again.

As a result, Croskrey told the Herald it’s not an easy decision to pull his authority for them to continue.

“I don’t take this decision lightly,” the sheriff told the Herald. “There are legitimate reasons for us to be doing this. It’s not some random thing I came up with. We just have to create a better path moving forward.”

While area judges and sheriffs say the change in the law makes this necessary, Teamsters Local 839 , who represent the eight bailiffs, disagrees.

Jesus Alvarez , the Teamsters’ business representative, said his understanding is that the law doesn’t apply to the bailiffs.

The union is negotiating with the counties to reach some sort of agreement that will allow their bailiffs to stay working in the courtroom, he told the Herald.

While officials didn’t announce any intent to cut the positions, Alvarez said the plan he has heard is to cut the positions by the end of February.

Bailiffs’ position

The bailiffs had been a fixture in the courtrooms for more than 50 years and have provided courtroom security for almost 30 years, Judge Joe Burrowes told the Franklin County commissioners during a recent commission meeting.

They hold a relatively unique position in the state, he said. They’re allowed to enforce the law and carry a gun and taser.

They’re allowed to do that because the sheriff grants them a “limited commission.” That allows them to act as law enforcement officers while they’re in the courtroom.

That changed with the passage of House Bill 1132. The bill, which passed the 2023 Legislature unanimously, added some new requirements for “limited authority peace officers” who have the power to arrest people and carry weapons.

To be limited commission officers, they need to have an active certification from the Criminal Justice Training Commission and a background check will be required for anyone hired after July 1, 2023 .

Since the bailiffs wouldn’t be able to have a gun or enforce the law, that means they wouldn’t be able to fulfill the current job description, Burrowes said.

Alvarez disagrees with that interpretation of the law, noting it doesn’t mention bailiffs at all.

He claims the Criminal Justice Training Commission also doesn’t interpret it the same way.

Courtroom security

It’s still unclear what this will mean for courtroom security in Benton and Franklin counties.

Most of the people charged with the worst crimes are being held in the county jails while their cases are pending. And for most pretrial hearings, they appear via video link from the jail.

If they are brought into the courtroom, they are accompanied by corrections officers from the jail, who are certified to carry weapons.

Where it becomes more uncertain is in other court hearings, such as in family court. Emotions often run high and it can be necessary to have a court official present to maintain the peace.

Croskrey said there will be some of his deputies on hand in the courthouse to do that if needed.

And, he said, they are continuing to work with the security contractor that operates the justice center’s metal detectors.

He doesn’t expect much to change on Dec. 2 , other than for the bailiffs to be unarmed.

Franklin County Sheriff Jim Raymond , who withdrew his limited commission for Franklin County bailiffs years ago, called the change a good one.

But he said it will likely cost an additional $150,000 a year to hire a new deputy to provide armed security in the courtroom.

His deputies already man the outside security station that everyone must pass through to enter the courthouse in Pasco.


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