Carson City Sheriff Ken Furlong in June 2022.
Photo by Faith Evans.
Nineteen children and two teachers died in a school shooting in Uvalde, Texas on May 24. The horror of event has touched Carson City, Sheriff Ken Furlong said.
“People are afraid. This was an over-the-top horrific event,” he told the Appeal.
Though, he added, Carson City is better prepared than most communities to handle an active shooter situation, especially thanks to school resource officers.
The SRO program began in 2015 and has grown to five deputies and a sergeant assigned to support Carson City schools.
Sgt. Matt Smith, the previous SRO supervisor, said that it’s not your typical law enforcement position.
“You’re not going to go in there with that overwhelming presence,” he said. “No, it’s going to be a lot softer approach. … When we see (students) in the halls, we’re high fiving them. We’re talking to them.”
He said that one goal of the program is to build trust with students so that they feel comfortable calling an SRO when they have a problem. It also helps the sheriff’s office engage with the issues that students face.
Smith had one particularly memorable interaction. A student at Carson High School who is in the foster care system grew close to several SROs.
One night, “He called our dispatch center saying he wanted to harm himself,” Smith said. “He didn’t want patrol. He asked by name (for) two of our SROs.”
The SROs went to the student’s house to ensure his safety, and he’s alive and well today. The SROs still high five him in the hallway at CHS.
“Taking that law enforcement side of it away – we’re human beings. We’re here to be that mentor, that coach, that person for them. It was very rewarding,” Smith said.
Still, the more pressing goal of the SRO program is school safety.
Smith said SROs have overstaffed graduation ceremonies this month to create a clear law enforcement presence. They also spent late nights in December 2021 preparing for the worst possible scenarios on “school shooting day,” promoted on the social media platform Tik Tok. The same month, they held a “neutralizing the threat” training at Carson Middle School, coordinating with the fire department and emergency medical services.
However, in February, when a CHS student brought a gun to school, it was a teacher who disarmed the student, not an SRO, district spokesman Dan Davis confirmed. The SROs responded to the incident, secured the scene, and began the investigation.
That’s not the only time a civilian has responded to a threat before SROs arrived on-scene. Furlong said that about four years ago, a student disarmed another student on the sidewalk outside of a school.
“Most incidents are going to be dealt with before the police ever arrive,” Furlong said. “It's just a fact. I don't know that I would expect a suspect to wait until Matt is ready and his gun is drawn before he's going to start.”
It’s part of the reason that SROs aim for crime prevention and building student trust. With just five or six SROs covering 10 schools and about 7,500 children, it’s impossible for them to be everywhere at once.
“You always, always want to be in front of the tsunami of a disaster. We don’t know, and there’s no way of knowing, how many incidences have been prevented in the last year,” Furlong said.
Heading into summer, the job won’t get any easier. The sheriff’s office always anticipates a spike in crime around June, Furlong said, between children getting out of school and summer events picking up.
“Our goal, year-round (is) we don't want to lose a student to anything. Not on campus, not up at the lake, not in a car, not four-wheel driving. Our goal is zero fatalities,” Furlong said.
At the June 2 Board of Supervisors meeting, he stood to request time for a presentation on school safety at the next joint meeting of the supervisors and school district trustees.