Municipal buildings even in the calmest communities can pose security challenges since they are open to the public and a wide array of visitors, and often have more than one entry point.
Vinton Police Chief Tom Foster shared information on the timely topic with a presentation on “Council Chambers Safety and Security” at the Vinton Town Council Strategic Planning Retreat on February 2.
He discussed vulnerabilities that exist as well as possible solutions.
Foster told council members that approximately2 million workers are the victims of workplace violence each year in the United States. Fifty-five percent of mass shootings occur in the workplace, while 29 percent occur in schools.
Eighty-five percent of workplace violence incidents involve criminal intent, such as robbery; 26 percent are over service issues between customer and client; 15 percent are due to interpersonal conflicts when a domestic dispute comes to the workplace. Some involve ideological attacks such as on animal testing laboratories or abortion clinics. Foster said that only 3 percent of workplace shootings involve an employee being fired.
Generally, shooters don’t just “snap”; targeted acts are usually not sudden or impulsive. Shooters frequently intentionally reveal clues that signal an impending violent act but haven’t threatened their targets directly prior to the attack.
Such attackers are often “grievance collectors,” who have a low tolerance for frustration and poor coping skills; they may have experienced a series of what they consider to be “injustices.” Those who turn to violence might have felt bullied, persecuted, or injured by others. Many had attempted suicide. Most had access to firearms.
Many of these violent individuals could be categorized as having paranoia or Narcissistic Personality Disorders. They may have personality traits of dehumanizing others, a fascination with violence and negative role models, or signs of depression or alienation.
Ninety-three percent of attackers engaged in behaviors others found concerning prior to the attack, such as delusional statements, “bizarre” behavior, changes in personality or performance, a history of disciplinary problems at work, and/or an expressed interest in weapons or acquiring them.
Most lack stabilizers such as church, family, or friends. Most came up with a plan at least two days prior to the attack. In 81 percent of the violent acts at least one other person knew. In 59 percent of violent acts, two or more other people knew but did not tell anyone.
Foster said that the types of threats vary from directly straightforward and explicit, to vaguely indirect, to implicated veiled threats.
The National Institute of Mental Health has found that mental health issues are very common in the United States, with approximately 26 percent (57.7 million) ages 18 and older experiencing some form of mental illness— that’s one in four adults.
More than half of those in jail or prison have mental health problems.
Chief Foster shared photographs of the interior of the Vinton Municipal Building on South Pollard Street and potential vulnerabilities of the facility, even with the Vinton Police Department located on the lower level.
He emphasized that local governments must provide security measures in municipal buildings to effectively protect their employees, citizens, their assets, and information.
Possible solutions to security problems identified nationwide include Access Control Systems or key control systems which restrict access to certain areas of the building, emergency lockdown systems, high resolution security cameras and video surveillance, wireless panic buttons, the addition of emergency exits, installing bullet-proof barriers or physical barriers in locations between the public and employees, or in council chambers between council members, staff, and the public.
During his presentation, Foster also discussed ordinances concerning protests, demonstrations, and assemblies.
One existing Virginia ordinance states, “When any number of persons, whether armed or not, are unlawfully or riotously assembled, the police officials of the county, city or town, shall go among the persons assembled or as near to them as safety will permit and command them in the name of the Commonwealth immediately to disperse. If upon such command the persons unlawfully assembled do not disperse immediately, such officer may use such force as is reasonably necessary to disperse them and to arrest those who fail or refuse to disperse.”
Another ordinance states that, in quelling a riot or unlawful assembly, “No liability, criminal or civil, shall be imposed upon any person authorized to disperse or assist in dispersing a riot or unlawful assembly for any action of such person which was taken after those rioting or unlawfully assembled had been commanded to disperse, and which action was reasonably necessary under all the circumstances.”
Unlawful assembly may be defined as “Whenever three or more persons assembled share the common intent to advance some lawful or unlawful purpose by the commission of an act or acts of unlawful force or violence likely to jeopardize seriously public safety, peace or order, then such assembly is an unlawful assembly.” Those who participate are guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor, unless they are armed; then it’s a Class 5 felony.
Any unlawful use, of force or violence by three or more persons acting together, which seriously jeopardizes the public safety, peace or order is a riot; that’s also a Class 1 misdemeanor unless they are armed with a deadly or dangerous weapon, which makes it a felony.
The Roanoke County Police Department in collaboration with police departments in Roanoke, Salem, and Vinton, and the Virginia Western Community College and Roanoke College Police Departments have proposed creating a Regional Field Force Team to combine resources of personnel and equipment to prepare for violent/non-violent demonstrations that may arise, involving violent extremism, domestic terrorism, and hate crimes. Federal funds in the amount of $139,473 have been awarded through a Byrne Justice Assistance Grant.
Collaborating departments will develop a response team, train officers in the formations and movements, donning gas masks, mass arrest procedures, different type of demonstrations and the demonstrator’s tactics with consistency among all agencies. The team will be available to assist any jurisdiction that requests assistance in the southwestern part of Virginia.