CHICAGO, Dec. 12 (UPI) -- Visitors to Cook County offices in the Chicago area must forgo their electronic devices effective January after a judge banned them citing concerns about gangs.
Chief Circuit Judge Timothy Evans said Tuesday in a release devices "capable of connecting to the Internet or making audio or video recordings" must be banned starting Jan. 14 at all 13 criminal court facilities in the county, the Chicago Tribune reported.
The policy change was made without the input of the Cook County sheriff's office, which is responsible for courthouse security, sheriff's spokesman Frank Bilecki said.
Bilecki said the rule may have unintended consequences, such as a shortage of kiosks already in courthouse lobbies for cellphone storage or people visiting non-court facilities such as social service centers in courthouse locations, the Tribune said.
"There are a lot of unanswered questions that would have to be worked out very quickly if this is going to happen," Bilecki said.
When announcing the ban, Evans said the change came after criminal judges said people attending proceedings were using cellphones to photograph witnesses, judges and jurors, the Tribune reported. Some judges said spectators "appeared to be texting testimony to witnesses waiting their turn to testify outside the courtroom," but didn't provide examples.
"The court is sending a strong message to gang members and others that any attempts to intimidate witnesses, jurors and judges in court will not be permitted," Evans said.
The judge said violators could be prosecuted for contempt of court.