- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 4, 2015

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - A prosecutor who authorities say grabbed a rifle away from a woman who shot a social worker outside a Vermont state office building offered lawmakers suggestions Wednesday for improving worker safety while cautioning them not to wall off state workers from the public.

Washington County State’s Attorney Scott Williams suggested the state add security to state employee parking lots and fencing around buildings; keep armed and trained security personnel; and put in bulletproof glass and screening mechanisms in some spaces, such as an area before the public enters a building.

“It’s about slowing that one bad person down. It’s not about keeping people out,” Williams said after speaking to the Joint Legislative Child Protection Oversight Committee.

Social worker Lara Sobel was shot outside the state Family Services Division offices in Barre as she left work Aug. 7. Jody Herring, of Barre, has pleaded not guilty to charges she shot Sobel and three Herring family relatives. Authorities say Herring was upset about losing custody of her 9-year-old daughter and believed Sobel had a role in that and the Herring relatives had reported her to the Department of Children and Families.

DCF Commissioner Ken Schatz has said that threats to staff have increased since the shooting.

Williams said the Washington County Courthouse where he works in Barre is not secure.

While acknowledging that the state is on a tight budget, he said he would prefer if the building had what he called an airlock extended from the entrance where people could be screened in an enclosed space before they enter the building and have bulletproof glass between the interior and exterior.

Recently a probationer who was being taken into custody absconded in the court building, he said.

“And this is a pretty big scary guy. And he was taking the ‘I’m not going to jail again.’ We could have had a hostage situation in a heartbeat,” he told the committee.

Williams said no system or method existed to alert the 150 or so people in the building that the man was on the loose.

“That’s embarrassing. We should all be ashamed of that,” he said.

He also recommended training for workers to help them become more aware of their surroundings and potential threats.

Schatz said the training was being developed for staff and will start next year. He said the Vermont Department of Building and General Services also is moving forward in developing safety and security procedures for all state owned and leased buildings. As part of that effort, the agency will do a safety and security risk assessment of each state facility, he said.

The state also is considering moving the DCF Family Services Division out of its current location in Barre where Sobel was shot.

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