The Sampson County Complex has been the source of security concerns in recent years and, with the budget being mulled at the managerial level, it is one of the many topics being considered for inclusion in the final draft.
Many department heads and employees have raised security concerns, detailing various needs across departments, ranging from metal detectors, guards, better lighting in parking areas, secure doors and swipe cards to security cameras and the need to improve building layout.
Members of the County Building Security Committee, formed to identify potential security risks and recommend cost-effective solutions to address and reduce those risks, spoke to the Sampson Board of Commissioners earlier this year about measures that could be taken on a varying cost spectrum — from no-cost policy implementation and training to more costly construction and renovation, and hiring of personnel — to answer concerns.
No action was taken at that time, with the matter to be further considered. Employees have voiced the need for better security.
“As a member of the building security committee, I have been awakened to many different measures that need to be taken for the safety and security of our employees and the taxpayers,” said tax administrator Jim Johnson. “In light of many recent events happening around our nation this cannot be taken lightly.”
While many low costs items identified by the committee have been addressed, “there are numerous other things identified that need consideration that will require a significant amount of funds,” he said.
“Although funding is needed,” Johnson stated. “I do not feel neglecting the issue is a valid option.”
Other county department heads have noted incidents of vandalism. Department of Aging director Lori Sutton said she was concerned for the security of vans at the Transportation building.
“We have had two break-ins in the past two years and thieves have taken all of our Home Repair tools and cut out two catalytic converters from two vans,” Sutton said in a letter to commissioners. “This left a hefty bill in both cases and stopped services for several days.”
Melanie Harris, with the county’s Soil and Water Department, shared similar concerns and expressed the need for better lighting, something echoed by many survey respondents.
“Employees are concerned about the poor lighting in parking lots and would feel safer with more visible police patrols,” said Harris.
The department had a vehicle vandalized in December and, upon further investigation, were made aware by the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office of the Transportation Department vandalism during the same time period.
“Multiple security incidents occurring at the same time should warrant communication to other county departments to check their vehicles for possible vandalism,” said Harris. “Occasionally, employees are required to be gone on overnight travel and leave their personal vehicles parked on campus. Employees should not be concerned about possible vandalism to their vehicle while away.
The security issue was initially raised last year, in which the potential of having paid personnel on campus was briefly broached. An internal review was subsequently conducted and County manager Ed Causey said the goal was to identify issues and ways improvements can be made, knowing full well the budgetary issues with which the Board of Commissioners will be dealing.
Those budgetary issues are still very much present, but county employees encouraged commissioners to consider funding tightened security measures.
Heather Bonney, director of the Sampson-Clinton Public Libraries and chairman of the County Building Security Committee, said the group examined all county-owned and operated facilities late last year, doing walk-through assessments of county-owned facilities at night.
She also cited a survey of 250 county employees, in which more than half said they were concerned about security entering and exiting the workplace. Around 60 percent indicated concerns about parking lot security, with about the same amount saying parking lots lacked adequate lighting. Bonney urged some action toward improving problem areas and aiding overall security on the entire campus.
“Whatever measures, programs or personnel decisions are made as a result of this survey, it is recommended that the county establish a program to identify, monitor and address security issues continuously,” Bonney said. “Without proper maintenance and adaptation, security initiatives may fail to address our ever-changing work environment.”
Department of Social Services director Sarah Bradshaw has pushed for increased security for the county complex for a while now and said that adding a security officer service, whether it be a contract or established position with the county, would likely prove most beneficial.
“Federal and state reimbursement for a percentage of related expenses can be accomplished through the DSS budget although services can be provided throughout all county buildings on campus,” said Bradshaw. “Contracting with a company may be the best way to have constant security. There would not be any ‘down time’ in the absence of the regularly assigned officer.”
No matter what form it ultimately takes, the importance of county employee safety cannot be understated, many said. Veterans Service officer Ann Knowles was one of the many who said as much.
“I was attacked a year ago and escaped serious injury only because there was someone in the office,” Knowles told county officials earlier this year. “I feel that if there had been a presence of law enforcement in the complex it possibly could have prevented the incident. I feel that the presence of security could make a difference in how people act in the complex.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.