Sheriff's openness and approach to crime fighting a plus for Carson City

This week, Sheriff Kenny Furlong spoke at the first of what is to be a series of community awareness luncheons at the Carson Nugget.

As soon as Kenny sat down to eat, and before he was introduced to speak, the paging system of his radio went off, and did not seem to let up.

Then, with just a few forkfuls of food that managed to reach his mouth without interruption, Undersheriff Steve Albertsen left the table and rushed out to the scene of a bus collision with a pickup truck near Spooner Lake. Chief Deputy Steve Schuette, who never made it to the luncheon at all, was following up on the shooting at Indian Hills, which involved residents of Carson City. What a time for a sheriff to be a guest speaker at a luncheon!

It was then time for our sheriff to talk about the status of crime in Carson City. And despite the wave of activity going on that he would need to attend to, he spoke articulately of where our city's crime stands.

To begin with, Kenny mentioned something that I fully appreciate and respect. He said that because his open communication style leads to frequent and consistent public sharing of information on the city's battles with drugs, gang vandalism and violence, many people misinterpret the increase of that openness of communication for an increase in crime.

"We are staying engaged (with the public). We are keeping people more informed, which sometimes gives the impression that things are getting worse." This is a sound and clarifying point that further defines our sheriff as one of the best any city could hope to call its own. Does his conscious acknowledgment of how people could and do misinterpret his abundant flow of public information hold back his constant and open communication? No way.

It's sort of like telling your family that you have an annual doctor's appointment, and them immediately thinking that something is wrong. In this case, the city is not dying. Violent crime in Carson City isn't up. It hasn't been up in six consecutive years. What is up is the sharing of public information.

But to put things in proper perspective, no one I know at City Hall is making the mistake of allowing that assurance to obscure the fact that we have a serious drug and gang problem for contention, with gangs being the nexus of the drug crisis in so many ways, especially in regards to methamphetamine's little travel tick from Mexico to California to Nevada.

But I was fascinated by what our sheriff said with his usual blend of honesty and accountability. The sheriff's department has already used up its overtime budget this year, and not from misuse or abuse. Contrasted to population size, the Carson City Sheriff's department is the smallest in the state. In daytime hours, we have eight officers on duty. In essence, what that means is that we have one officer on duty for every 10,000 people in Carson City since our city traffic increases to an estimated 80,000 during that daylight time. However, the minimum staffing at night calls for five officers on duty. But instead of complaining and surrendering to the admission of negativity on productivity and improvements, our sheriff has sought and found a veritable and equitable alternative, turning potential weakness into strength. In what he calls a "VIP program" (volunteers in police service), Kenny has 150 volunteers to complement his 145 employees, which saves the city an enormous amount of money. For rudimentary, yet important assignments like traffic control, abandoned vehicle patrol, house watch, or visitor processing for inmate visitations at the prison, volunteers controlling traffic at four different accident scenes can take the place of one deputy that costs the city $75,000 a year in salary and benefits, while he or she is involved with more demanding assignments. Not a bad alternative.

Other pertinent topics were covered by Kenny during his speech, such as the importance of education as it relates to reduction in crime, or its absence as it leads to lives of crime. But I was, once again, just enthralled by the overall commitment and honesty of Sheriff Furlong. He doesn't hide behind his words.

Believe me, I have nothing to gain by writing this. I can and have received traffic tickets just like anyone else. But I couldn't think of a better sheriff to give me one.

• John DiMambro is publisher of the Nevada Appeal.


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