Avoiding Tragedy in the Clark County School District: Inside the CCSD Police Department

Hearts still ache at the mention of the Sandy Hook tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. The thought of little lives eulogized at the age of 6, and young teachers already heros in their deaths is too much for some to grasp. But no doubt this tragedy forced parents to question their own child’s safety and wonder what the Clark County School District is doing to avoid a similar one. The answer is simple. They aren’t doing anything different than what they’ve been doing for years.
 CCSD police say they are ahead of the game when it comes to school safety and preventing violence among students. CCSD is one of only 125 school districts across the county with its own police force. With more than 400 school and administrative buildings in the district, housing 311,000 students the force spreads its 135 officers throughout the school district each day. Two armed officers are stationed at each standard high school, while other officers patrol assigned zones so they are within minutes, if not seconds from any sign of trouble inside or surrounding a school. Captain Ken Young, who has been with the department for 22 years, remembers a close call that was diverted thanks to this system, “a citizen saw an individual on their way to one of our Northwest high schools with a shotgun two blocks away. We were able to cut that person off before they got to the campus”.
The police program started back in the mid 1960’s as a security entity. By the 70’s the force had evolved and its members were referred to as peace officers. By the 80’s they were considered a full operating police department. In 1994 CCSD Police Department created the Break the Code of Silence program encouraging students to report any signs of violence anonymously. Fast forward to the post Columbine era and things took an obvious turn. That’s when schools across the country were required to make major changes. One was that officers were no longer required to wait for SWAT teams to arrive to respond to a problem. They are trained to assess and act as soon as they arrive on the scene. Fast forward to the post Chris Privett era. Privett you may remember was the Palo Verde student gunned down in 2008 while walking home from school. Police say although random, it was gang related. Proving violence reaches all corners of the valley, even in the Summerlin suburbs. After the Privett shooting the department had another revamping. They started the School Violence Initiative partnering with Metro, North Las Vegas and Henderson Police to make sure they’re on the same page when it comes to response times and protocol.
At the start of each school year, every school is required to create an emergency plan that is tested by CCSD PD. The departments internal monitoring system ensures all schools are surveyed throughout the day. But we can’t rely on just the technology. How about good old fashion parenting that doesn’t waiver no matter how advanced we get? “Be nosey as heck”, Young says. Check the phones, the passwords, the emails, the text messages. There are often clues hidden inside these devices that might keep a situation from escalating. From bullying, sexting, drugs and gun violence, parents play a key role intercepting these teen issues. Issues, that like it or not, have a place in our society. However, Young does not foresee a time when we would go to a complete lockdown situation and metal detectors on campus here in Clark County, as many across the country have called for since the Sandy Hook shooting. He says the system they have is working well. They are trained and take no chances. All threats are serious threats. They continue to focus on community outreach, developing rapport with par-ents and students, building those key alliances that keep students safe and can ultimately save lives. By Jessica Lovell Carro