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BY DONNIE JOHNSTON
Some Culpeper County employees are now literally able to hit the panic button when they feel threatened.
"Panic buttons," which immediately alert sheriff's deputies of trouble, were re-installed last summer in the county courthouse and installed for the first time in several other county buildings, including the Giles H. Miller Building, which houses the offices of the treasurer and commissioner of revenue.
In all, there are more than 50 panic buttons now in use, according to Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Corey Byers.
These devices, which have been used in banks and other high-risk institutions for more than a century, were installed in August as part of Sheriff Scott Jenkins' campaign pledge to improve security in and around the courthouse, Byers said.
"When I took office in January 2012, the old panic buttons in the courthouse had been disconnected during renovation and never reconnected," Jenkins said. "There was also an exterior door of the courthouse that had no alarm and would allow undetected entry to the courthouse.
"The bailiffs have worked hard to improve security and address the recommendations made in a courthouse security assessment."
When a button is triggered, a pre-recorded message is broadcast over police radio and emails and text messages are sent to deputies, who are dispatched immediately, Byers explained.
The alarm system, which cost about $20,000 to install, has already been used several times.
"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.
"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."
Clerks for the Juvenile and Domestic Relations court also used the button once to summon deputies to a fight that broke out in the hallway, Byers said.
"On the one occasion we used the new alarm system, sheriff's deputies were in my office within seconds," said Commissioner of Revenue Terry Yowell. "This system far surpasses the antiquated walkie-talkie system and I appreciate Sheriff Jenkins' persistence in making this change a reality for us."
Jenkins and Division Superintendent Bobbi Johnson have also discussed the possibility of using panic button in school classrooms to minimize police response time in case of an emergency, according to Byers.
"Sheriff Jenkins endorses the technology as a viable and effective way to make schools safer," Byers added.