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Virginia Sheriffs’ Association
The Voice of Virginia’s Sheriffs & Deputies

Government employees in and around Culpeper County’s courthouse have felt safer for the past six months after Sheriff Scott Jenkins had “panic buttons” installed in various public buildings.

Since August 2012, civilian employees at the Sheriff’s Office, courthouse, treasurer’s office and other buildings have literally had access to deputies at their fingertips.

More than 50 panic buttons were installed in an effort to better secure facilities; when someone presses one, deputies are immediately dispatched to the user’s location when a pre-recorded message broadcasts directly over the police radio frequency. The system also sends messages to deputies’ e-mail accounts as well as text messages to their work cell phones.

As they approach the six-month mark for having the panic buttons available, local government employees say they appreciate the extra security.

“We have had an incident where we had to use it—it was nice—we had a quick response.” said Cheryl Phillips, a clerk for the General District Court.

Phillips said that at one point last year an aggressive defendant came to the clerks’ window—the clerks decided to use the panic button to summon deputies’ assistance.

“Before we would have to send a clerk to get a deputy—this is better because we don’t even have to go out the door. It’s a sense of security knowing you can push a button and someone will respond,” Phillips said.

Sheriff Jenkins had the buttons installed as part of his campaign promise to improve courthouse security, and it adds another layer of protection for government employees in other offices.

“When I took office in January 2012, the old panic buttons in the courthouse had been disconnected during renovation and never reconnected.  There was also an exterior door of the courthouse that had no alarm and would allow undetected entry to the courthouse,” Sheriff Jenkins said. “The bailiffs have worked hard to improve security and address the recommendations made in a courthouse security assessment.”

The Sheriff’s Office paid approximately $20,000 for the system; the buttons were purchased from and installed by SecureTech Systems, Inc.  Sheriff Jenkins offered to purchase the system for the courthouse and other buildings to boost security.

SecureTech Systems owner Steve Kirby said his company has installed panic buttons in more than 2,000 government facilities nationwide.

“That’s where we save time—getting that message out immediately,” Kirby said. “Since the message is specific there is no confusion to the deputies for where they’re going.”

He noted that the system will alert users if a panic button is removed or if the battery needs to be changed in one of the units.

Clerks for the Juvenile and Domestic Relations court used the button once to summon deputies to a fistfight that broke out in the hallway.

Even without an emergency incident, the buttons add a greater sense of security.

“We haven’t had to use it, but we’re thankful it’s here,” Circuit Court Clerk Janice Corbin said of the system. “You never know what kind of customers we’ll get.”

Commissioner of the Revenue Terry Yowell has a panic button system installed in her office and feels reassured.

“Ninety-eight percent of taxpayers understand that we are administrators of state and local taxation and they know that we are here to assist them by ensuring fair and equitable assessment and taxation,” Yowell said.  “Sometimes we have difficult situations where we deal with a very agitated taxpayer.  We have always had a good relationship with the Sheriff’s department and they recognize that every now and then we need security and we need it right away.”

Yowell can attest to the quick response by deputies.

“On the one occasion we used the new alarm system, sheriff’s deputies were in my office within seconds,” Yowell said.  “This system far surpasses the antiquated walkie-talkie system and I appreciate Sheriff Jenkins’ persistence in making this change a reality for us.”

Sheriff Jenkins continues to work to improve school security as promised.  This month he again met with Schools Superintendent Dr. Bobbi Johnson, during which he suggested the possibility of installing the same type of panic buttons in school classrooms.

The buttons would eliminate the delay for dispatchers directing officers to the particular location of a crisis in the schools.  Sheriff Jenkins endorses the technology as a viable and effective way to make schools safer.