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April 2007 - The courthouse in Washington County’s city of Abingdon, Virginia, responded to the increase in weapons that was becoming a greater risk to safety. Dealing with violent tempers is not uncommon in court proceedings, and the inmate transfer process to holding cells and courtrooms also needed upgrading. The historical building had too many means of entry as new wings and doors had been added over the years. The Historical Society also had strict rules for renovations that created special needs for installing a new security system. The answer was flexible, scalable IP network technology.
Homeland Security funding covered the costs for Dynamark Security to install a digital security system that uses about 30 Vivotek and Axis network cameras managed by Milestone XProtect Enterprise IP video surveillance software. They have also installed a Galaxy access control system at the prisoners’ entry with an intercom buzzer into a secured passageway for the holding cells, and a metal detector at the main public entrance, turning other doors into fire exits to limit entries.
County Sheriff Fred Newman recalls: "Around 2004 we decided to re-vamp the courthouse security because we continued to have problems that were escalating. There was the shooting in the Atlanta Courthouse and a Tennessee Correction Officer who was shot while transferring a prisoner, not to mention the Judge whose family member was killed up North. Ongoing events like that raised security awareness and made funding available."
With the Milestone IP video system, his officers who are responsible for the building's security gained full overview and control of everything that is happening throughout the many courthouse venues, whether it is stopping weapons at the front door, monitoring inmates in the holding cell areas, or courtroom proceedings flaring up. They are handling all the security risks proactively.
"We like being able to watch what’s going on and be proactive instead of reactive in any situation, using the system to respond fast before things get out of control. We can see everything that’s happening anywhere around the building for full control over our security," says Lieutenant Don Stewart, of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.
The Washington County Courthouse anchors the main intersection of a twenty-block historic district that is on the National Register of Historic Places with buildings dating back to the 18th century. The passage of time had brought many additions to the original building, with extra doors increasing security risks. They had to re-build the old doors that had been kicked in so many times they weren’t secure anymore, and the antique pressed-tin tile ceilings required special dispensation to put in new lighting. Fiber optic cables for the new system were wired by Dynamark, who also implemented an access control system.
Inmates are transported to and from the Regional Jail just 5 miles away. The officers use the surveillance to respond fast, and to resolve cases where prisoners might wrongfully claim abuse by an officer: they have video proof of what really happened. There can be violence, both with inmates and families processing domestic disputes. Tempers run high and fights can break out both in the courtrooms and waiting rooms. The surveillance alerts the officers if they need to run in and stop it.
"We can see in the Milestone system what’s going on and respond fast in the right way. A really good thing with the video is the complete control it gives us over the inmates. We watch the prisoners get out of the vans and into the building, all the way to their holding cells, and during their movements to the courtroom. We have one of the most advanced systems in the entire state," states Stewart.
"This security system gives me peace of mind," concludes Washington County Sheriff Fred Newman. "Now I know that our judges, court staff, employees and county citizens, who work in and utilize our courthouse, are well protected."