Courthouse gets gunfire-response team

Mar. 06, 2014 @ 10:10 PM

A year has passed since Durham’s new courthouse opened, and no one has opened fire there.

But that’s no guarantee it won’t happen, which is why the Durham County Sheriff’s Office has created a “courthouse response team.”

The 12-deputy team – apparently the first at a county courthouse in North Carolina – is trained to respond with lightning speed to a shooter who opens fire at the courthouse.

“All deputies are trained in rapid deployment to respond to active shooters,” sheriff’s Lt. C.R. Vaughan, the team’s creator, said. “But I thought it would be a good idea to have a team at the courthouse that was trained beyond that level.”

Team members are always stationed in the courthouse, working security, so deployment would be fast, he said.

In addition to subduing a shooter, the team would respond to courthouse kidnappings and barricaded suspects.

Two possible scenarios would bring the team to action:

- Someone walks into the courthouse and opens fire before reaching the metal detectors.

- Someone slips through the detectors and begins shooting.

In both cases, regular deputies would act immediately. The courthouse response team would then mobilize and take over, providing dual protection.

Studies have shown that quick response minimizes death and injury, so having the team nearby is crucial, he said.

 “I just felt, and Sheriff [Mike] Andrews felt, that it would be very important to have a team onsite to respond to those situations rather than having to wait for a team to arrive,” Vaughan said.

Team members were chosen from a large candidate pool.

“We did review boards for applicants, agility testing, combat shooting testing,” he said. “And based on the positions they finished in, the team members were selected. We wanted to get what we felt were the best-qualified.”

Team members get no extra pay.

“The guys are very dedicated,” Vaughan said. “They want to do this, and they understand that they put themselves at a higher risk by doing it, but that’s something they’re willing to do.”

Maj. Paul Martin, who oversees courthouse security, said many deputies also have attended training in crisis intervention.

“A courthouse is a place where many complex and emotionally volatile situations unfold,” Martin said. “Maintaining a concern and a humanistic approach for stressed individuals who are the object of court rulings is a necessary step toward preventing violent responses.”

Martin said the justice system’s complexity can overwhelm those who feel they “may have been stripped of their humanity. So our first effort, to the extent possible, is to create an atmosphere that substantially detracts from the likelihood of violent reactions.”