Howell tragedy leads to changes in policy
Last August, Carson City lost one of its own when Deputy Sheriff Carl Howell was killed in the line of duty while responding to a domestic disturbance. Now a year later, the Sheriff’s Office is making updates to equipment and policies to better prepare deputies.
“For every incident it is vital to review what happened and look at policies and practices to make sure they were all accurate,” Sheriff Ken Furlong said. “While the Carl Howell shooting has taken on a public view, that process applies to day to day occurrences… we are required to review this to ensure our professional standards stay high.
Over the course of the year, two Carson sergeants reviewed everything that happened the night Howell was killed to see where improvements could be made. The two presented their recommendations to Furlong in May and presented them to the department last month.
“In this case, we found no action outside of policy, Howell acted and performed in the highest level of action,” Furlong said. “Many things are being addressed but everything was cleared in the Internal Affairs investigation by the two sergeants and division heads that reviewed it.
“Every aspect of Howell’s actions that night were valid within reason and valid within practice — he did exactly what we would have expected.”
However, from that night, the sergeants recommended both new policies and equipment for the department to hopefully provide improvements if a similar situation ever arises in the future.
One of the biggest changes will be the addition of life saving first aid kits in every patrol vehicle. Previously the deputies only had typical first aid kits, consisting of Band-Aids and gauze, but were unprepared to immediately treat a serious injury. The new life saving kits will include tourniquets, which can stop massive bleeding on limbs and severe abdomen wound care.
Howell’s family said they believed if an officer had been able to apply a tourniquet to the leg wounds, there would have been a different outcome.
“If someone, anyone had just thrown a tourniquet on it, he would have lost his leg, but there would have been a chance to live,” said Alice Howell, Carl’s stepmother.
Kevin, Carl’s father said he also had offered to help pay to get the tourniquets to Carson so the deputies would be prepared.
The sergeants’ vehicles will also be equipped with rescue straps so they can pull officers out of dangerous situations and there will be more ballistic shields available for deputies.
Furlong, Fire Chief Bob Schreihans and City Manger Nick Marano have met to talk about improvements with the radio maintenance within public safety. Furlong said the night Howell was shot they experienced severe radio challenges.
“The radio communications is our top priority for fiscal year 2018 considerations,” Furlong said. “The radio infrastructure is very old and it can’t be acceptable to do the best we can — we need to provide our first responders with effective radio communications.”
The radios won’t be available until the 2018 budget is considered due to the cost of the new communications. The estimated cost for the improved radios would be around $800,000.
But the Sheriff’s Office won’t be the only one getting updates on its life saving procedures. The Carson City fire engines will also soon be equipped so medics can enter shoot zones with personal protection gear. This allows them to go into scenes, even if the threat isn’t completely abolished to provide life saving measures sooner.
“We saw this with the IHOP shooter and we made adjustments and training and with Carl Howell’s shooting we will make more adjustments realizing the faster we get to victims the better chance of saving them,” Furlong said.
This procedure, known as warm zones, is already utilized with the SWAT team, but needs to be implemented into regular duty.
Improvements and changes will also be made with the Sheriff’s Office’s training. One training that will be changed will be the range qualifications the deputies do. Several times a year, in order to qualify to work for the department deputies go through a course on the shooting range to test their accuracy and competence with their weapons. The new training will include two man shoots to qualify.
“Rather than shoot as one, they will shoot as a team as most calls are two man,” Furlong said. “So we will train with two man so if there is a worse case, they can learn to communicate better together if two officers are engaging one threat at the same time.”
The department will also look to see how they can increase staffing per shift to improve sufficient staffing and response resources that will be readily available especially during the early morning hours to handle a significant incident. Due to budget cuts in 2010, the department doesn’t have the sufficient amount of staffing. Currently, shifts typically have a maximum of five deputies on duty and it poses a challenge for significant issues, especially with the graveyard shift because there are less resources available at that time. For example, with the Howell incident, because of the low number of staffing, deputies couldn’t establish a perimeter and the threat level was high.
However, Furlong said they haven’t been able to ask for the money to hire enough deputies to sufficiently cover the shifts. They would need to increase the staffing by nearly a third, totaling about 21 new officers.
“That is an unrealistic financial expectation for the board to be presented with,” Furlong said.
Furlong said by increasing policies and procedures as events happen, they can keep both the officers and the community safe.
For Kevin Howell, the loss of his son was devastating, but he said if his death gets things changed within the department, it’s a small silver lining.
“We have heard it is making changes in the department, there are many good things, if they all come about, manpower, equipment, lots of things that will improve,” Kevin said. “It is a tough way to get it though.”