Sheriff Rick Lisenbe was barely into the discussion concerning the new Phelps County Courthouse Emergency Response Plan, Tuesday morning at the county commission meeting, when everyone was reminded about the world we live in today. Addressing courthouse department heads, he said the Sheriff’s Dept. would be holding another active shooter training class.
“With the way things are going right now [in society], things seem to be getting worse,” he noted, setting the tone for a new reality of living in a world where criminals feel they have nothing to lose.
He talked about officers and judges being ambushed in various states and how violence can spread into a courtroom setting where emotional cases are heard.
“Everyone is important in this courthouse and we need something that is going to work for everyone of you [to maintain your safety],” he said.
One of the courthouse safeguards is an office-wide safety activation system so law enforcement officers can respond quickly, should the need arise. The sheriff gave an example of a bomb threat.
“I’ve had two bomb threats since I have been in office and we got lucky on the last one,” he explained. “We were able to track down the individuals at their house and we recovered the cell phone (from which the call was made) and took them into custody. When you arrest these people, it sends a message that it means jail.”

If anyone receives a bomb threat call, they will dial four digits on their phone and it goes straight to Infotech, the Sheriff’s Department communications system.
“It goes to Infotech, because we have somebody there 24/7,” Lisenbe explained.
Once the alarm is processed, a notification will be sent immediately to employees at one time, so they know what is going on and they will also be given direction on how to respond to the emergency.
According to the plan, there are three phases, escalating in response importance.
“If it’s a bomb threat—that’s Phase One,” said Lisenbe. “If it is a tornado—that’s Phase Two. An active shooter will be Phase Three. If it’s an emergency health problem, like someone passing out—it’s 911. The reason it comes to us, is we can activate people and get them in place as soon as we get the call.”

Sheriff Lisenbe says it takes a long time to get the bomb sniffing dogs on site from Fort Leonard Wood and then to clear the building. “The time it takes to clear the courthouse depends on the dogs that are engaged in bomb sniffing.”
He said the procedure has changed since the last bomb threat, which now allows courthouse employees to take any personal items with them when evacuating the building.
“It was a mess out here last time—nobody had any cell phones or car keys and everybody just stood around because they couldn’t get their personal items,” he noted.
“The next thing we’re going to do is an activation through Everbridge (the critical communications system) with the appropriate people (the office holders) notified that the courthouse has been cleared. It’s not my responsibility to notify each and everyone of your employees, but if we can tie their phone numbers into this phone notification system, we’ll do that.”

Sheriff Lisenby said many steps have been taken to make the courthouse more secure. He discussed the cameras that were installed so an observer can watch the court rooms when they are in session, along with the surrounding hallways.
“We’re going to install another camera facing the courthouse drive area,” he added.
“The reason for that, is we had a guy in the middle of the night, cover his face and head and put a package down in front of the doors. He knew the cameras were there, because as soon as he came into view, he pulls up his jacket and pulls his hat down over his face.”

“If you think something like a shooting can’t happen in this courthouse, you’re wrong,” Lisenby stated firmly. You have a lot of emotions going on in this courthouse that are dealing with [things like] child custody and molestation. You know who these people are and why they’re here, but it’s still something you have to be aware of. There is a boiling point [to people’s emotions] somewhere.”
The sheriff says he’s trying to keep bailiffs in the courtrooms and when there is not a bailiff and there’s a judge on the bench, he says they are going to be in the courthouse lobby, where they are visible. “When they start seeing uniforms, it will make people think.”