GILFORD — When a woman who escaped her captor this week after allegedly being held in her home for 16 hours with a gun to her head and at times handcuffed, she ran to the police department, likely thinking that at 3 a.m. it was the safest place she could go.
What she didn’t know was that all of the Gilford police officers were out of the station corralling youths who were attending a large under-aged drinking party in Gunstock Acres.
But, according to Lt. Kris Kelley, she did find the brand new “safe room” that was installed as part of the new police station renovation. Once she arrived, she secured herself in it and an officer, who was contacted by dispatch, responded immediately from the party to the station to offer assistance.
“She was very, very smart and courageous,” said Kelley, referring to her ability to de-escalate the situation and eventually get the gun from her captor and leave the home in his car.
Kelley said this is the first time someone needed the safe room. He also hopes it the last time someone will ever have to use it.
“I’m just glad it was there for her,” he said Monday.
He said neither the woman nor the police had any idea if her estranged boyfriend was following her, as there were two working vehicles left behind at her home, and that it’s not unheard of for a victim’s captor to follow the victim wherever they go.
In a story obtained from the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch from 2013, a Reynoldsburg, Ohio, woman who fled from her husband was gunned down in the lobby of the police station while trying to flee. In an interview given from her wheelchair, the victim said she ran through the lobby doors, but once inside was trapped because all of the doors leading into the station were locked. By the time three on-duty officers reached the lobby, she had been shot three times. Her husband had stood over her and shot her in the base of the spine. She survived, but will use a wheelchair for the rest of her life. He surrendered and is in prison.
The shooting led to a number of police stations in the Columbus area being retrofitted with safe rooms in police department lobbies, and, according to various recent articles in the news media including a story by NBC about one in Washington state, most new construction or renovations of police departments include safe rooms in the lobby.
The relatively new Meredith Police Department has a safe room off the lobby that is also used to separate couples who are fighting or for initial interviews of people who are walk-ins.
Capt. Matt Canfield of the Laconia Police said they don’t have a safe room as such, but there are two bathrooms in the lobby where someone could hide until police could get to the lobby. He also said someone in distress could be “buzzed” into the community room by a dispatcher, which is secured from the rest of the building.
The one in the Gilford Police station that was used over the weekend is there by design. It’s a small room with dimensions of 8 by 12 feet, and holds three chairs and a small table.
It is used for interviews and fingerprints for job interviews and is also equipped as a safe room. Kelley said the police facility planning committee incorporated it into the design as a kind of all-purpose room/ safety room.
“A lot of thought went into this building,” he said.
He said there is a telephone that connects to the dispatch center and cameras so the dispatcher can monitor activity until uniformed officers arrive. Kelley said it is steel reinforced and there are some Kevlar components to it and in the entire lobby but he declined to elaborate.
One of the most important things for Kelley is that the door is controlled by the dispatcher and can be used as it was over the weekend even if there are no officers immediately available. In this weekend’s incident, he said the dispatcher was able to get a police officer there within minutes.
“We are very grateful we have this facility and the full-time dispatch center,” said Kelley. “We are doing our best to keep everybody safe.
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