Humboldt County Sheriff Mike Allen and Winnemucca Police Chief Bill Dalley attended a special law enforcement summit addressing school safety on March 14 in Carson City, hosted by Attorney General Adam Laxalt. The summit was attended by all Nevada law enforcement agencies, including Las Vegas, who called into the conference. “It really got us all in one room together to discuss a very serious topic, so I thought that was good to do together,” said Allen.
After the Las Vegas shooting on Oct 1, Sheriff Joe Lombardo spoke at a meeting and stressed the importance of giving officers the duty to act, rather than officers waiting to go through the chain of command, which could put more people in jeopardy in an active assailant situation, according to Allen. “It’s not just active shooter, it’s active assailant that they talked about at this meeting,” said Allen. “Your mind opens up a little more that there’s a bad thing going on in the school; the person could have knives, a bomb or a gun.”
“We do make sure that our officers have the duty to act, that they will go in and that we’re not waiting for the sergeant, captain or sheriff to give the go-ahead; they will respond and they will act. That’s what we expect of our people,” said Allen.
One of the issues identified by law enforcement following review of the 2013 school shooting in Sparks, is that when law enforcement responds, it’s important to leave an area where EMS and other responding agencies can get through and access is not blocked.
“That’s something we need to make sure we implement in our planning, is that we leave an avenue for other people to get in and out if necessary,” said Allen.
If there were to be an active assailant situation, the agency closest to the incident would respond first, as well as supporting agencies. Once the situation is contained, the agency with the geographical jurisdiction would become the incident command (IC), and would coordinate the resources and various agencies involved in the emergency response, according to Allen.
Allen said it might also be helpful for individuals to understand the dispatching process. There are always at least two dispatchers in the dispatch center at any given time, so while one dispatcher is on the phone with the reporting party of an incident, the other dispatcher is on the phone sending the appropriate agencies out to the location of the incident. The HCSO dispatchers dispatch for both law enforcement agencies in Humboldt County.
Both agencies said social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, would be used to release information to the public regarding an incident, as well as all local media outlets. The school’s robocall and mass text notification system would be utilized to notify parents of an incident, as well as where to find new information as it’s released, including the muster point for kids and parents once safe to do so.
Another emergency notification system used by both HCSO and WPD is Alert Sense, a crisis management and collaboration platform software, allowing agencies to send out a notification to individuals within a certain geographical area. This software was used to send a “shelter in place” notification during the September manhunt for a homicide suspect from Sacramento, who was later found in Winnemucca. This system would also be used in an active assailant situation to notify members of the public, according to Allen.
There is also a link on the HCSO website, hcsonv.com, that allows individuals to anonymously report suspicious activity to local law enforcement. This system should not be used in place of dialing 911 in the event of an emergency, as there is a lag time from when the suspicious activity was reported to the time local law enforcement is notified of the report.
Nevada is also in the process of adopting the Safe Voice software system, giving students access to be able to anonymously report anything, from someone smoking in a hallway to a threat made by another student. Humboldt County is slated for an August 2018 rollout date for the system. The information submitted by the students will be reviewed, then distributed to local law enforcement to investigate.
“I’m looking very forward to that because it gives the students an avenue to report suspicious or concerned activities of what’s going on there,” Allen said. “Hopefully it’s another way we can mitigate or prevent a serious situation from even starting.”
In December 2017, the school resource officer (SRO) for Humboldt County, Chukuma Jones, made a transition to be an employee of the WPD rather than the school district. Jones served as the SRO as a school district employee since July 2014. “The reason we did that is to have better continuity and communication between the schools and law enforcement,” said Dalley.
The scope of responsibilities for the SRO includes patrolling school zones before and after school, educating kids and parents about safety, responding to calls during the day and also teaching a part of the Substance Abuse Intervention Program (SAIP). Lt. David Garrison with WPD explained that Jones now has access to the resources of the entire police department, whereas before with the school district some resources were limited, such as access to crime labs and investigation tools. Dalley mentioned that he hopes to be able to have more than just one SRO in the future as Jones currently splits his time between 11 schools total in the district.
“Any time there’s a threat at the school, we are reactive and that’s a terrible position to be in,” Dalley said. “The only proactive thing we can do is prepare for it through training, anticipate different things that could happen, try to improve our partnerships with communication so then we can identify an issue before it happens. That’s where we’re at right now.”
Dalley advises parents and untrained community members not to go into a school or area where there is a report of danger, as more people on the scene without a uniform makes it more difficult for law enforcement and other emergency responders to secure the location.
“There would be an incident command center set up with a public information officer giving information periodically so that people know exactly what's going on, and that doesn’t just go for schools but for any major incident,” said Dalley.
Training is also conducted with the schools and law enforcement officers present so everyone is aware of their responsibilities in an emergency situation, this includes active shooter simulation and training. “It’s important for the schools to know what we are going to do on a response and it’s also important for us to know what their responsibilities are so we’re not working against each other,” said Dalley.
Both Allen and Dalley made it clear that the two agencies work together for the best interest and safety of the public.
“It can happen anywhere, we’ve learned since Columbine and before that,” Dalley said. “Our kids are one of our greatest resources and that can hurt more than anything else; it has more negative impact than just about anything.”