Preemptive planning at courthouse

Mar. 09, 2014 @ 05:26 PM

It is a sadly frequent scenario:

A gunman or other assailant walks into a public place, opens fire or otherwise begins doing harm to anyone in sight, and innocent bystanders are killed or seriously injured.

In the aftermath, investigations occur, studies are done, panels may be appointed to hold hearings – and authorities conclude they must step up precautions to avoid the repeat of such an incident.

Fortunately, we have not faced such a tragic event.

Also fortunately, the Durham County Sheriff’s Office has decided to ramp up its planning for such an event before one occurs and after-action studies call for such preparations. The department has created a “courthouse response team” trained, as The Herald-Sun’s Keith Upchurch described it Friday, “to respond with lightning speed to a shooter who opens fire at the courthouse.”

The team members are volunteers – culled from a potential pool that far exceeded the 12 slots on the team. Courthouse security officers were eager to sign up even though they get to extra money for being on the team – and undergoing special training. They were eager even though, to note the obvious, they will put themselves in heightened danger should they ever need to spring into action.

Courthouse security already is prudently tight. The new courthouse does a far better job of separating prisoners being brought in from jail or other defendants from lawyers, court personnel and the public.

Metal detectors screen everyone entering the courthouse, but authorities realized they need to anticipate two potential threats. Someone might walk into the courthouse and open fire before passing through the metal detectors which are – to allow for lines forming to pass through them – a few yards inside the front doors.

Or, despite sophisticated equipment and observant officers staffing the detectors and examining belongings, someone intent on creating havoc might devise a way to slip through them.

Sheriff’s Lt. C.R. Vaughan explained to Upchurch his reasoning in creating the team.

“All deputes are trained in rapid deployment to respond to active shooters,” Vaughan said. “But I thought it would be a good idea to have a team at the courthouse that was trained beyond that level.” They all work in courthouse security so they will be in the building and able to respond quickly.

In another proactive effort to increase security, many deputies have received training in crisis intervention.
“A courthouse is a place where many complex and emotionally volatile situations unfold,” said Maj. Paul Martin, who oversees courthouse security. “Our first effort, to the extent possible, is to create an atmosphere that substantially detracts from the likelihood of violent reactions.”

Everyone who enters the courthouse – voluntarily or less so, as a participant in the process, as a juror or just as a spectator or someone there to do routine business – should be grateful for the sheriff’s office’s efforts both to prevent violent situations and to be prepared to respond rapidly and effectively should one occur.