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What's being done locally to protect high attendance events like Heritage Days?

Jeff Bobo • Oct 2, 2017 at 6:00 PM

ROGERSVILLE — Downtown Rogersville will be jam-packed with as many as 30,000 people the weekend of Oct. 13-15, and it's likely that nearly every one of them will have the tragic Las Vegas shooting on their minds.

Could it happen here?

Local law enforcement says, "Yes."

In fact, they've been preparing for years.

The Rogersville Police Department and Hawkins County Sheriff's Office will be out in force during Heritage Days.

There will be officers in uniform, officers out of uniform and officers in locations that can't be disclosed.

Sheriff Ronnie Lawson told the Times-News on Monday that city and county police have been training for years — not for "if" an active shooter event occurs, but "when" an active shooter event occurs.

"It's a constant worry for law enforcement on how we're going to combat this," Lawson said. "You can't have the attitude that something like this will never happen here. The way America is now, people do really violent things just to make a name for themselves or their cause. We're constantly reminding our officers to be on their toes and be vigilant."

Lawson added, "We're trained to watch the crowds. We watch social media to see if anyone is making violent threats or leaving clues about their bad intentions. People who have bad intentions like this will look for these type events, so we've got to make sure we're taking every extra precaution and never let our guard down."

For the past several years, county and municipal police departments have trained together on active shooter scenarios at churches, businesses, nursing homes and schools.

Earlier this year, they had their first countywide active shooter training scenario involving EMS, Central Dispatch and fire and rescue agencies at Joseph Rogers Primary School in Rogersville.

The goal was to make sure every agency is on the same page and following the same plan for that type of event, whether it be at a school or anywhere else.

But Lawson and RPD Assistant Chief Travis Fields agree that the best defense against domestic terrorism is the public.

"We as law enforcement can take every precaution imaginable, but our greatest defense is when the public is paying attention to what's going on," Fields said. "It's untold how many tragedies have been averted because someone reported something that didn't look right. If you see something, don't hesitate to report it. Don't worry about wasting our time. We would much rather look into 1,000 reports and it be nothing than have a tragedy occur because someone failed to report something one time."

Fields said he hopes the Las Vegas tragedy won't prevent people from attending the Heritage Days festival or continuing to live their lives normally.

"We still feel like it's a safe area,” Fields said. “It's a smaller venue, but we're taking every possible step that we can to make it as safe as possible."

Lawson asks anyone who sees or hears something suspicious, not just about Heritage Days but any public location or gathering, to call Central Dispatch at (423) 272-7121; the RPD at (423) 272-7555; call 911; or speak to one of the officers at the event.

"Let somebody know," Lawson said. "It may mean nothing to you, but it might mean everything to us."

Lawson added, "I personally don't think this should change the way you live your life. We live in America, land of the free, and we've got to support our local law enforcement agencies because we're going to protect everyone the best we can."                                                                                       

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