Ken Furlong: It’s a matter of the public safety
It’s been months of challenging circumstances for our community, businesses, families and schools, but I saw us beginning to emerge from the darkness. Then, without warning, the horrific death of George Floyd reignited the unresolved wounds of racism, police use of force, and unequal treatment of minorities in this country. The frustrated public demanded answers, change, and resolution, not later but now.
Amid uncertainties created by the pandemic, peripheral personal and political agendas arose and residents began expressing themselves at demonstrations across America and in this town. Then suddenly, in the community of our northern neighbors, unacceptable levels of violence erupted with substantial property damages; we had reached a breaking point.
Looking back over the past several months, it’s no wonder that toilet paper disappeared from the shelves of grocery stores, since without a belief or confidence in a better tomorrow, human beings may react often without reason. We all should have seen the empty shelves as a critical warning of what was to come. Americans were in a panic.
As sheriff, I believe we are now beginning to emerge from the darkened forest and light is beginning to reappear on the horizon. Although we have a long economic and social reform path in front of us, I am certain that together our community stands shoulder to shoulder to ensure the public’s safety, whether from pandemic or violence, and as is true of Carson City, the seat of government for the state of Nevada, we will continue to respect one another’s opinions, listen without prejudice, and build upon the communications and positive activism.
From the onset of the pandemic to the most recent demonstrations, public safety agencies from the entire region have been working together at levels of intensity not seen in ages. Health agencies, law enforcement, and governing bodies intensified communications and coordination with one another, and focused on the critical needs of the community.
Supporting agencies such as fire and police jumped in with full commitments, while at the same time implementing backup plans to ensure that first responders would always be available to the public. Then, atop the state and community disaster declarations, the undeclared national disaster struck with the death of George Floyd. Ultimately, government, law enforcement, fire and medical/health officials were forced to prepare for civil unrest and extraordinary violence. The disasters were mounting atop one another.
For nearly three months, the Carson City Sheriff’s Office has been in an “emergency operations” configuration and has met with other law enforcement and health authorities daily. Law enforcement agencies, including the Nevada Department of Public Safety, carefully and continuously scrutinized intelligence information for threats to our residents, as well as best practice approaches to the evolving circumstances.
Throughout the crisis, first responders committed themselves to protect everyone, support our neighboring jurisdictions, respect the rights of demonstrators, and avoid interference that is often brought on by the mere presence of a uniformed officer. At my direction, the Sheriff’s Office directed a community wide response policy of “de-escalation”, a strategically planned response that was actively supported by our mayor, local governing body, city management, and city disaster managers.
As sheriff, having access to an overwhelming volume of rapidly changing information over the past several months, I often said that if the public was aware of the extent our local government leaders were going to ensure and safeguard their businesses, neighborhoods, families, and the economy, the recognition would be awe-inspiring. That was the case recently as residents came out to voice their support here in Carson for local law enforcement and our community leaders, all the while standing just feet away from counter demonstrators.
Throughout the last several months, Carson City has witnessed a sharp decline in crime. Through the first five months of the year, data has indicated an approximate 24% decline in crimes against persons, and a 17% decline in crimes against property.
However, early on, the department’s internal data indicated that mental health crises were emerging at unpredicted levels. The Sheriff’s Office responded by repositioning additional experts to deal the mounting volume of individuals exhibiting severe crisis episodes. The Mobile Outreach Crisis Triage Team received added manpower, and the detention center reduced its inmate population in coordination with the District Attorney’s Office and local judicial authorities. Crisis centers, such as the Behavioral Health and the Mallory Crisis Center opened themselves to greater admissions and treatments. Internally, sheriff’s supervisors and managers intensified efforts to help employees who were experiencing greater levels of stress. Further, the department’s Patrol Division sought opportunities for jail diversion programs in the face of daily crisis conflicts.
When demonstrations began in Carson City, all of the state and local law enforcement agencies in the community began a coordinated and unified response that prepared for the worst of circumstances, yet most frequently remained publicly silent and visibly unseen. Law enforcement had to remain poised to immediately respond with effective and sufficient resources to any threats, while at the same time respecting the rule of law and the rights of those in peaceful demonstrations, without regard to a particular agenda. Carson City has suffered no arrests or property damage as a result of any demonstrations thus far.
Crisis Intervention training and de-escalation techniques have been a policy of the sheriff for well over 10 years. All first responder law enforcement officers are issued body-worn cameras. Strict policies for use of force reporting and review are in place. Data systems collect information related to complaints by the public and are maintained by the sheriff’s executive staff. Responses to violations of standards are coordinated with the District Attorney’s Office if warranted, and when corrective actions are implemented, on-going monitoring takes place.
Additionally, the Sheriff’s Office has coordinated with the judicial district and justice courts for mandated detention “pre-release” programs to ensure prolonged detention is not based on mere economic status. Ongoing “jail diversion” practices have been in place for several years with the departments Mobile Outreach Team, Juvenile Services, and the Alternative Sentencing Department at the forefront, and in support of numerous Specialty Courts readily available in Carson City. Reflected in the community outreach program support, the community of Carson is actively engaged at every opportunity in community resource opportunities, transparency, and policing efforts.
It is important for local law enforcement, as well as local government, to retain progressive measures at the front of our community agendas, and not allow them to fade with time. The Sheriff’s Office remains intent on engaging in community activities, and hosting those that allow effective communications between our residents and law enforcement. Police academies hosted at the Sheriff’s Office, National Night Out and Cops N Kids celebrations, are a few of the opportunities to learn more about local efforts.
The City of Carson and the Sheriff’s Office host web sites, Facebook pages and additional social media opportunities for public input, inquiry, and transparency. Additionally, opportunities to be informed are presented by the citywide use of emergency notifications for any disaster or urgent condition. We encourage everyone to avoid informal social media information. Legitimate emergency notifications and instructions should always contain a valid source of the information, such as presented by Health and Human Services, the Sheriff’s Office, Carson Fire Department, School District, or Carson City Emergency Managers.
United Nevada is not just a phrase. Together, we must embrace the lessons learned over the last several months, embrace a better and more efficient and transparent way of doing business that encourages all citizens and governance to engage at all levels.