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Dallas Adds Security For County Officials

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(credit: KTVT/KTXA) Bud Gillett
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DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Dallas County Sheriff’s Department has thrown a ring of security around top county officials, especially District Attorney Craig Watkins, who feels his office is especially vulnerable. “What we’ve seen basically is a chilling effect on our ability to do our jobs,” he told reporters outside the Dallas County Commissioners Court Tuesday. DA Watkins believes commissioners will find the money needed to make his staff feel secure. While he says he’s gotten threats since the day he was first elected, he adds, “I’m not the only person that has received threats in the DA’s office. In fact, we just had one last week.” While he wouldn’t identify the prosecutor or the case, he said the threat came from the brother of a defendant and that his office will pursue it. “It happens all the time. It’s just one of those issues that we just dealt with it in the course of business, but the reality is we see that some people are not only threatening but they’re actually pursuing the threats and acting on them,” he said.

Watkins has told CBS 11 News he is especially concerned that many of his 250-prosecutors have to share unsecured parking areas with defendants or their families. It can be a long, unprotected walk across an 8-lane street or pedestrian bridge for his staff. Watkins thinks the shootings in Kaufman County will change attitudes among Dallas commissioners. “At the DA’s office, we’ve been the squeaky wheel, we’ve been screaming and hollering about a lot of things, and I think people are starting to listen and I don’t think this will be a fleeting moment in time.” Not only among them, but also Watkins himself, who used to brush off personal threats as simply part of his job. “But now I see I should take this more seriously and make sure commissioners give adequate protection, not just to me but to everyone.”

While the incidents in Kaufman County have not prompted any of his prosecutors to resign, he thinks it’s on their minds. “ I would imagine a lot of people are soul-searching at this point and we need to give them the confidence that they’re doing the right thing. And the first step that we take is to make sure we have adequate security.”

Basic security is in place inside many buildings. At the Crowley Courthouse, a private security force patrols the lobbies and runs weapons screening points. But there is no security outside. Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valedez says her staff began providing protection to the DA and others as soon as news of the Kaufman County shootings on Saturday. “Amazingly, with what we’ve got we’re doing a good job,” she told CBS-11 News, adding that these are difficult economic times for her department. The sheriff says in the next week her office and others will map out a long-term plan. In the next 48-hours, she says, look for higher visibility from deputies in public areas, many of whom will use “flex time” to cover added patrols. Still, there’s a limit to what can be done.

“We’ll never be able to protect everybody from everything; we don’t have the funds or the ability to do that. But there are certain areas that are weak areas that we need to look at.” County Judge Clay Jenkins, though, told reporters the county will do whatever needs to be done. “We’ve given the sheriff the green light to do what’s necessary this week and we’re looking at a variety of options for enhanced security on a go-forward basis. ”

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