Dozens Of Court Officers Who Feel Unsafe Rally For More Staff

Court officers holding signs in protest of the lack of staffing on Oct. 23, 2018.  Eagle  photo by Christina Carrega.

Court officers holding signs in protest of the lack of staffing on Oct. 23, 2018. Eagle photo by Christina Carrega.

By Christina Carrega

Ahead of a planned demonstration outside the Queens Supreme Courthouse in Kew Gardens, court officers from across the city converged on 60 Centre Street in Manhattan to demand the state hire more officers.

Though a new court officer training facility is expected to open in November, the men and women that guard the city’s courthouses say they feel unsafe.

“We are 20 officers short here,” said Sherman Blanks, 37, a court officer at 60 Centre St. in Lower Manhattan. “There is no one to back me up, no one there to assist.”

The protest was the latest in a series of demonstrations demanding the state hire more court officers. The New York State Court Officers Association planned to hold another demonstration outside the Criminal Courthouse in Kew Gardens Thursday morning.

Over the last two years, approximately 60 court officers were “seriously hurt” while on the job by inmates and members of the public, said Dennis Quirk, the president of the New York State Court Officers Association.

“It’s a constant thing everyday,” said Quirk.

Quirk lined up with over 50 members of the Supreme Court Officers Union outside of the Manhattan Civil Courthouse on Tuesday evening to protest an appearance by Chief Judge Janet DiFiore who they say has not hired a sufficient number of court officers. DiFiore was receiving an award from The Cervantes Society at the group’s 23rd Annual Hispanic Heritage Month ceremony.

“The chief is getting an award and the courthouses are in a crisis, we are threatened everyday,” said a court officer from Brooklyn that declined to be identified. “We cannot work with a shoestring staff.”

At Tuesday’s rally, officers wore navy blue t-shirts that renamed the acronym for OCA (Office of Court Administration) to Organized Crime Association, was the second of a series of events they held outside of a courthouse with an enormous inflated angry union rat and cat .

The officers chanted “More Officers Now” as DiFiore entered the building and “DiFiore, Don’t Ignore Me” as she walked up the staircase.

“Since the Chief Judge’s investiture in 2016, we have hired nearly 600 Court Officers,” said Lucian Chalfen, a spokesperson for the Office of Court Administration. “By the spring of next year we will have graduated an additional 3 classes of recruits, both upstate and downstate, totaling more than 380 new court officers.”

Another protest is expected outside of Queens Supreme Court on Thursday at 8:30 a.m.

Earlier this year, a novelty hand grenade was found by a court officer before it entered the building.

Officers say the wheels of justice slow to a halt whenever a courtroom cannot open because it is understaffed or whenever a multi-defendant case requires twice as many officers assigned to a courtroom.

“Manhattan Supreme Criminal Court is probably one of the busiest courthouses on the planet where judges are sitting in their chambers unable to open their parts because we don’t have enough people,” said Patrick Cullen, the president of the Supreme Court Officers Association.

On Oct. 19, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams held a press conference at Borough Hall about the recent gunfire happening Downtown and the connection with the court system.

“People who were on their way to court who appeared to have hidden guns on construction sites or other locations,” Adams said at the event.

Quirk said they use to have enough staffers to walk around the courthouses in plainclothes to catch people hiding weapons and arrest them.

“But they cut that out they don’t want it, they don’t care. If the gun is not coming in the courthouse, but is left in the street they don’t care,” said Quirk.

A long awaited training facility is expected to open next month on St. John’s Place in Crown Heights, a source told the Eagle.

“The safety and security of our court facilities is paramount. We are extremely confident in the dedication, training, skill and professionalism of all our 4,000 Court Officers throughout New York City and State in maintaining order and keeping the courts safe and secure for the Judges, lawyers, court staff, litigants and jurors who use them on a daily basis,” said Chalfen.

When an officer was told about the opening of the new facility he said, “When I see it, I’ll believe it.”