Security issues at new Central Courthouse will cost taxpayers $3-million

33 additional deputies needed to ensure safety

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - When ground was broken for the new Central San Diego Courthouse a promise was made: No taxpayer dollars would pay for it.

That promise was mostly true.  Fees and fines covered the cost of the $555-million dollar 22-story building, but there was a hidden cost that now will be paid with taxpayer dollars, $3-million dollars' worth.

The Central Courthouse design has forced the San Diego County Sheriff to re-structure security within the building. The biggest design flaw is the lack of an underground tunnel from the central jail.

Without the tunnel, prisoners must be bussed, and even that is problematic. In January, Team 10 was there as deputies did a trial run and discovered the buses barely fit through the exit ramp from the new courthouse's underground garage.

RELATED: Special accommodations needed to get prisoners to new downtown courthouse

At the time of that report, the Sheriff's Department wouldn't say how much it would cost to transport more than a hundred prisoners each day. 

Through a public records request, Team 10 obtained a copy of the funding request signed by Sheriff Bill Gore and San Diego County's Chief Administrative Officer, Helen Robbins-Meyer. It requests $3-million per year to pay for 33 additional deputies required "to protect the public and government employees."

That request outlines several "architectural design challenges". One of these challenges involves lack of a secure, direct access tunnel between the jail and courthouse. According to a study conducted by the Sheriff's Department, it now takes about 26 minutes for a deputy to walk a prisoner to the courthouse. Without that direct access, it will take 61 minutes to transfer each prisoner. On average 129 inmates are moved from their cells downtown to the courthouse each day.

The request also says the sallyport beneath the new Central Courthouse is "inadequately designed" and although there is additional holding cell capacity at the new building, it's not enough to compensate for the lack of direct access.

San Diego County Spokesman Michael Workman said the amount of money needed and used depends on the approval of California's budget.

"The DOF (Department of Finance) has not yet approved our request for supplemental funding. The Governor’s proposed budget does include $7 million to fund enhanced court security needs created by the opening of newly constructed courthouses scheduled to come online in the budget year," Workman wrote in an email. "It is not known how much will actually be in the final approved budget, or how much, if any, of the $7 million will be provided to San Diego."

The height of the new courthouse also presents security problems. The current courthouse has 8 floors, but the new one has 22 floors. More deputies are needed on each floor in case of emergencies.

"The high-rise configuration of the new Central Courthouse significantly affects the ability of deputies/sergeants to quickly respond to security issues, dangerous incidents or emergencies," the request states.

On average, there are 16 such emergencies reported at the courthouse each week. The Sheriff is adding "roving" deputies to the mix in case deputies inside the courtrooms are unable to respond quickly.

The report also claims the 5 security screening stations near the courthouse entrance were designed "without Sheriff's Department input." Not only is there a wall that blocks deputies' view of the full lobby, there is also the "higher potential of escape" because the felony arraignment courts are located near the courthouse entrance and exit area.

Team 10 reached out to both the Sheriff's Department and San Diego County to find out if the state has approved the funding. As of this writing, neither had responded with an answer.

The Central Courthouse is set to open sometime this summer, with some departments beginning their moves in June. The courthouse isn't expected to be fully operational until August.

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