WINCHESTER — The sometimes precarious balancing act between public access and public safety continues in the wake of Friday’s massacre at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center in which 13 people were killed.
Police and government officials in Winchester and Frederick and Clarke counties said on Tuesday that no immediate security changes are planned at local government buildings, but findings about the mass shooting will be studied to see if any improvements are necessary. Virginia Beach police continue to investigate why suspected shooter DeWayne Craddock, an engineer for the city, killed 12 people before being fatally shot by police.
Through Sunday, there have been 13 mass shootings nationwide this year — defined by the FBI as the killing of four or more people — according to Mass Shooting Tracker, a website that tracks shootings in which four or more people are wounded. The Virginia Beach killings were the only ones this year that involved a government building open to the public.
“The challenge for those of us in law enforcement and emergency preparedness is always balancing the openness and transparency of local government with the need for safety, not only of the community, but employees of the city,” Winchester Police Chief John Piper said. “That’s a constant challenge, but anytime we have a tragedy like what we had last week, it always presents an opportunity for us to learn and to analyze what we’re doing here and make small improvements.”
Piper said active shooter drills have been done in Winchester in the past, primarily focusing on school buildings. He said police also regularly provide safety briefings at local businesses and places of worship regarding mass shootings. “We’re very proactive as far as working with the stakeholders in the community, but we’re always looking for ways to improve and change with different events that happen nationally and locally,” Piper said.
In April, Winchester became the first city in the U.S. to install motorized retractable safety columns. The $250,000 columns, known as bollards, were installed on the north and south ends of the Loudoun Street Mall. They are designed to prevent deadly attacks like the ones in Nice, France, in 2016, Charlottesville in 2017 and Toronto last year in which drivers used vehicles to ram pedestrians.
“No locality is immune to any of these events,” said Scott Kensinger, Winchester emergency management coordinator. “They are scary events that you always have to keep in the back of your mind.”
In a written statement, Winchester City Manager Eden Freeman said city officials regularly update evacuation procedures, situational awareness techniques and threat assessment. “The goal of the city of Winchester is to ensure that we provide the safest environment while maintaining access to public facilities for our residents.”
Police in Winchester as well as the sheriff’s offices in Frederick and Clarke counties teach the “run, hide, fight” strategy to prepare people for a mass shooting. The strategy, recommended by the Department of Homeland Security, said escaping should be the top priority in an attack. If escape is too dangerous, hiding is the next option. A last resort is confronting the attacker using items such as books, chairs, fire extinguishers or scissors as makeshift weapons.
Clarke County Sheriff Tony Roper said county employees are advised to have situational awareness of their surroundings and to report suspicious activity.
“We believe you can do this without being overly paranoid,” he said in an email. “Simply identifying exit doors when entering a room, for example, or knowing what items you could use as a weapon in an emergency.”
Berryville Town Manager Keith Dalton said he regularly consults with Roper and Berryville Police Chief Neal White regarding security at the Berryville-Clarke County Government Center.
“It’s an important discussion,” he said. “Threats change and responses need to change with that.”
Frederick County conducted an active shooter drill in 2017, according Sheriff Lenny Millholland. In addition to teaching “run, hide, fight,” it does “stop the bleed” training in which participants learn how to use direct pressure and apply tourniquets to wounds.
“We don’t take security of any facility lightly. We constantly train,” Millholland said in an email. “You never know when something will happen or where.”
Last June, the Emergency Preparedness and Instruction Center, a fledgling program at Shenandoah University, held a public safety forum for first responders that focused on training for mass shootings and natural disasters. Matthew Watson, EPIC program director, said he’s interested in holding another forum if the program can pay for it with federal grants.