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15 YEARS AGO: Better security at HEW long desired by building employees

Kevin Wiser
Staff Writer

Editor’s note: This story was originally published Jan. 11, 2001 by The Union.

Nevada County Mental Health Department employees had been asking for bulletproof glass in the front office long before a young woman was shot to death there Wednesday.:The glass partition separates the lobby of the department at the HEW building in Nevada City from a reception area. and someone on the other side of the glass must press a button to unlock a door allowing access from the lobby into the offices inside.

John Eby, a crisis counselor, said Wednesday evening his department has asked for years that the extra protection be added but, “we had been told it’s too expensive.”

“The type of people we deal with on a day-in, day-out basis, you can imagine,’” Eby said Wednesday evening. Eby stressed that most mentally ill people were not violent, but that “a certain small percentage have a very volatile, explosive nature.

“The HEW building is a monster. How you could ever secure that building, with all its exits and entrances, I don’t know.” — Sam Dardick, former Nevada County supervisor

“Employees deserve better protections,” he said. “It’s not an everyday occurrence. Less than 3 percent of mentally ill people are volatile enough to cause damage.”

Administrative analyst Stephanie Snyder said, “We need to look at this situation and consider what changes need to be made to ensure greater safety for county employees and the public.”

Pat Ward, supervisor’s analyst, said security at the county’s courthouse in Nevada City has been an issue for a number of years.

A 1997-98 civil grand jury blasted the county for lax courthouse security.

To tighten security, all of the courthouse’s numerous doorways were closed, and a metal detector staffed by security personnel was installed at the main entrance.

Former county Supervisor Sam Dardick said similar incidents of violence against government entities have occurred in other California counties.

“As we just found out, it can happen here,” Dardick said.

The county is well aware of security issues, he said, and has taken measures over the last year to improve security.

Following Wednesday’s shootings, he said more should be done to improve security at all county buildings.

However, Dardick said, he didn’t know how to make all the county’s buildings totally secure.

The Mental Health Department, where the shootings took place, is housed in a wing of the county’s Health Education and Welfare (HEW) complex, an old building that once served as a hospital.

“The HEW building is a monster,” Dardick said. “How you could ever secure that building, with all its exits and entrances, I don’t know.”

He said it’s not just the county’s mental health and welfare facilities that are at risk.

In 1999, the county boosted security at the Rood Administrative Center, the county’s headquarters in Nevada City, by locking all side doors and limiting the public to a single entrance.

Dardick said the Rood Center is still vulnerable, despite the fact the Sheriff’s Department is housed on the second floor.

A crazed or disgruntled person who hates government could target any of the county’s facilities and easily walk into the Rood Center and start shooting, he said.

Snyder said the county should consider security measures beyond alarms, metal detectors and armed guards.

“We need to look at a broad range of things that might include workplace violence training to teach public employees to be aware of situations they should be wary of, so they can possibly avert potential incidents,” Snyder said. “First we need to understand what happened and why. These things are often random and can’t be predicted.”

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