Dinwiddie leaders talk workplace safety after VB shootings

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: June 14, 2019 | 1:45 p.m.

‘See something, say something,’ stressed by local law enforcement

DINWIDDIE – Flags across the Commonwealth may have returned to full staff but the memory of late May’s deadly shooting in Virginia Beach remains fresh in the minds of those living in the city and Virginians from the coast to the mountains.

DeWayne Craddock, a former employee of the City of Virginia Beach, opened fire inside the city’s municipal building, killing 12 people before he was killed in a gunfire exchange with responding officers, bringing the death toll to 13.

As news of the shooting made its way across television and social media that Friday and into the weekend, the conversations beyond Virginia Beach in neighboring communities and those far removed from Hampton Roads shifted to asking if enough has been done to prevent a tragedy of this magnitude from happening where they live.

Dinwiddie County was no exception, according to County Administrator Kevin Massengill as, on the Monday after the shooting, he had already spent much of the weekend in close communication with various county department managers and had penned an email that detailed a myriad of safety procedures employees should keep in mind for emergencies, ranging from active shooter to severe weather.

Inside the new Dinwiddie County Government Center, which is in the midst of its sixth month of full operations, while the building is aesthetically appealing, two of the core principles of the new building, along with the public safety building just across the parking lot, were safety and security for those working in the building and those transacting business there on a daily basis.

“In the development of this project, we wanted this building to be open,” he explained. “We want the citizens to be able to come here and conduct business and we pride ourselves on that open relationship but, at the same time, there are responsibilities we have to our employees and protecting them, as well.”

Following Friday’s shooting, Massengill said he believed there was an opportunity to revisit some of the information provided to county employees as part of their training and other exercises, which resulted in the email message sent to all employees and constitutional officers last week.

“We saw this as a chance to reiterate some things,” Massengill said, adding the email provided information, such as the Department of Homeland Security’s active shooter resources, known as “Run. Hide. Fight,” along with things for employees to keep an eye out for that may seem unusual or out of the ordinary, like unattended bags, oddly placed vehicles, questions from someone that go beyond the realm of mere curiosity, like asking about shift changes or staffing.

“The whole point of this message was to remind people that we do have a safe work environment and that we are fortunate to be able to strike a balance between having an open government, which we are proud of, and that we are here to help our citizens but, we also don’t want to become too restrictive as well, so there is a balance we manage there,” the county administrator detailed.

Those sentiments were shared by Dinwiddie County Sheriff D.T. Adams, who said the shooting in Virginia Beach serves as an unfortunate but all too real reminder to communities across America.

“This was a reminder that this can happen anywhere,” the sheriff remarked. “And this is why it is so important to stay prepared. I think Dinwiddie County made a great step forward by building these new buildings and having security inside.”

The Dinwiddie Government Center was designed with efficiency in mind for county departments but also safety and security, County Administrator Kevin Massengill detailed in an interview last week. 

A key asset that was talked about when the government center merely existed as an architect’s rendering on an easel was the idea of having a Dinwiddie County Sheriff’s Office deputy stationed in the heart of the building, with direct asset to the lower floor via a wide staircase that links to the two-story facility, with technology at their disposal to give them eyes across the entire building. For both Massengill and Adams, having that law enforcement presence inside the building was essential.

“For our employees, it puts that asset here in the building and allows them to be able to respond swiftly if needed and they have technology there to assist as well,” Massengill remarked. “In addition, he can help the community by telling them where they need to go and interacting with those visiting the building. He is truly the sheriff’s eyes here in the building.”

“If he sees something out of the ordinary, someone out of place, or in an area that they shouldn’t be in, he can go directly to that location,” Adams said of the government center deputy and their ability to see many parts of the building thanks to a network of cameras.

Along with the email correspondence between Massengill, county staff and constitutional officers, the county administrator said they have also begun having more focused conversations with key employees as part of a review of their security plan.

“We feel we are in good shape but, at the same time, we want to make sure that we are up to speed on things,” Massengill detailed.

As the conversation about safety began and grew in the days after the shooting going into the following work week, Southside Virginia is known for the close relationship localities have with one another and last week was no different as communities within and beyond the region reached out to Dinwiddie to garner about their government center, being that it is currently one of, if not, the newest municipal center built in Virginia.

“In terms of municipal buildings, we probably have one of the newest buildings here and, with that, this complex was built with more modern techniques because we took time to be brought up to speed on what other communities had as we were developing this building,” Massengill said. “Because of that, now we have had calls from other localities who want to come here and look at what we did,” adding as early as last Monday morning, a community brought their team to the building to garner information they could use for their own facilities.

Along with the implementation of modern security-oriented building techniques, the county administrator noted they worked and the building’s architect worked with a consultant who is trained in Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design concepts, CPTED, for short. This standard focuses on “reducing crime through urban and environmental design and the management and use of built environments,” aimed at “reducing victimization, deterring offender decisions that precede criminal acts, and while building a sense of community among the inhabitants so they can gain territorial control of areas and reduce opportunities for crime and fear of crime.”

According to Massengill, some of the things looked at as part of the CPTED standards included lighting and landscaping, among a host of other elements.

Dinwiddie Sheriff D.T. Adams, seen speaking to Virginia State Police during 2018’s grand opening of the county’s new public safety building said it’s vital that the community report anything that seems suspicious to them, no matter how small it may seem, so deputies can investigate.

While having the latest technology and other security tools at one’s disposal, for both County Administrator Massengill and Sheriff Adams, the human factor of reporting suspicious behavior – seeing something, saying something – is a vital part of keeping the community safe, no matter how small something may seem.

“Our goal here is that we are in the people business,” Massengill remarked. “We pride ourselves on having people come in and having citizen participation so we don’t want to discourage anyone from working with our people but, at the same time, we have to educate our people about what isn’t normal behavior. My email on Monday was about reminding people if they see something, say something and that they are never wasting anyone’s time by reporting something they feel is suspicious.”

Those words were echoed by Sheriff Adams, who actively encourages residents to call him directly or contact the sheriff’s office with tips of any kind.

“I think that is why things run so smoothly in Dinwiddie County because I have an open-door policy and people can call me on my cell phone or send me messages on Facebook and social media if they think something is awry,” Adams remarked. “I urge all citizens if they see someone acting strangely or they seem out of place, do not hesitate to call us and let us go check them out.”

As days turn to weeks since, as of now, deadliest mass shooting in the United States this year, communities across the country and in Virginia are doing their part to prevent another shooting like this from happening again as best they can.

“These are tragic events but, if you don’t learn from what happened, we could end up making the same mistakes. If something can be done, we owe it to those who lost their lives to become better prepared,” Massengill closed.

Copyright 2019 by Womack Publishing
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