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Prosecutors downplay security risks

Thursday, April 18, 2013

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Local prosecutors and law enforcement chiefs say recent fatal shootings of some of their colleagues in Texas and West Virginia do not greatly worry them that the same thing will happen here.

Despite receiving occasional threats from criminals who seem to be getting more brazen, they said they do not think they need special security details, such as around-the-clock protection, regularly — at least not yet.

“I hope it doesn’t get to that point,” said Martinsville Sheriff Steve Draper.

“We’re supposed to be protection for other people,” said Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry.

Martinsville Commonwealth’s Attorney Joan Ziglar acknowledged that police and prosecutors are “in more danger than ordinary people.”

That is especially true for law enforcement officials in uniform, Draper said.

Occasionally, there may be instances in which threats are made against an officer and he needs “a little extra security for himself and his family,” said Martinsville Police Chief Mike Rogers.

However, the shootings in Texas and West Virginia “appear to be isolated incidents,” said Henry County Commonwealth’s Attorney Bob Bushnell.

“By and large,” Bushnell said, most “people seem to respect that a prosecutor is just doing his job” when he tries cases.

Rogers said he would “really be concerned (if he was) out there in Texas ... not knowing if someone is going to kill other prosecutors” there.

But locally, he said, “we just need to continue to keep in mind that it could happen to anybody in our position” and be cautious.

“We always have to be aware of our surroundings,” Draper said. “You can’t get complacent.”

Ziglar said she thinks prosecutors and police in smaller localities are more vulnerable than their colleagues in larger metropolitan areas because more people know who they are.

She acknowledged that the Martinsville police have kept close watch over her at times when she has received threats, and she is grateful for their concern.

Ziglar said, though, she does not think she and other prosecutors and law enforcement officials usually need around-the-clock security “in a place like Martinsville where everybody knows each other” and looks out for others.

“I’ve never been afraid for my life,” said Bushnell, who has been chosen to be the area’s new juvenile and domestic relations district court judge.

Criminals “would be mighty imaginative ... to think that every prosecutor is afraid” of them, he said.

He added that “the risks faced by prosecutors are nothing” compared to risks faced by police and sheriff’s deputies who, for instance, have to stop motorists for traffic violations and visit suspects’ homes to serve warrants, not knowing whether they will encounter rational or hostile people.

“Most police officers, I think, feel they can protect themselves,” Bushnell said.

Providing prosecutors and law enforcement officials with around-the-clock protection would be “a waste of public resources” that are more needed to protect citizens, he said.

Perry made a similar comment. He also said that the more police officers there are, the better able they are to protect the public and themselves.

For that reason, he encourages people to contact elected officials and ask them to provide funds to hire more officers, he said.

Ziglar said commonwealth’s attorneys statewide have been pushing the General Assembly to pass a law that would make assaulting them a felony. She said she does not understand why lawmakers have not done that yet.


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