Sheriff has new threat policy

Published 12:34 am Saturday, November 1, 2014

After four bomb threats in a little more than a month, the Suffolk Sheriff’s Office implemented a new bomb-threat response policy that involves not automatically evacuating the courthouse, according to Maj. E.C. Harris.

“It’s being done that way nationwide,” Harris said.

Threats disrupted the judicial system and downtown traffic on Aug. 28, Sept. 11 and Sept. 24, which were all weekdays. On Oct. 4, a Saturday, the Peanut Festival parade was interrupted by two different threats called in.

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Lt. James Darden said the sheriff’s department called all of its fellow departments in Hampton Roads to learn about their policies regarding courthouse bomb threats. Members of the Suffolk Sheriff’s Office also attended a conference around that time and asked many comrades there about their policies.

Involving the Circuit Court judges, police department and fire department, the sheriff’s office crafted the new policy, which it declined to share with the News-Herald to avoid the public knowing specifics.

Harris noted that the entire building — including the roof and the area surrounding the building — is searched every morning before the courthouse opens for the day. Everyone and every package entering the courthouse is screened with metal detectors and X-rays, respectively, so the risk of an actual bomb entering the courthouse is remote.

“The bigger threat is the active shooter getting us out of the building to our collection points,” Harris said.

Sheriff’s deputies would investigate the threat while court continues in many cases. The building would still be evacuated when a higher level of threat is determined to exist.

On Oct. 6, the Monday after the Peanut Fest parade was marred by threats, the courthouse received yet another threat — its fifth in as many weeks. But the courthouse was not evacuated in line with its new policy, and there hasn’t been another threat since.