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Trustees hear updates on school safety  | #schoolsaftey

The Washoe County School Board of Trustees on Tuesday heard a presentation regarding the role of the WCSD School Police Department and updates to school safety. 

The police department, which provides law enforcement resources to students, staff and parents within the district, has a new crisis alert system and updated safety infrastructure. The department’s new firearm-sniffing K-9 officer stole the show, however.

The newest member of the WCSD School Police team, Astro, is a K-9 officer trained to detect firearms and will be patrolling school properties along with his handler. 

Beth Smith, Washoe County School District trustee.

Trustee Joe Rodriguez, who worked with district police to get a K-9 officer, said Astro was one part of the district’s overall safety efforts. He added that he sees Astro as a community resource, not just a school district resource.

“This is incredible work; this is absolutely a demonstration of what we can do when we set our minds to it,” Trustee Beth Smith said. “This was not an overnight thing, and this was not because of one situation. The community should know this was two years’ worth of work.” 

Officer Matt Bowers, Astro’s handler, has spent the first week of the new school year touring schools to introduce Astro and explaining the schedule he’ll be working at each site to staff. He said he hopes that having Astro patrol area schools will help students and staff feel safer. 

Schools get crisis alert system

The launch of Centegix, the new district-wide crisis alert system, began in the spring of 2023, and installation has been completed in more than half of the district. 

Centegix is a portable alert system. Staff carry an alert button on their school ID lanyard; if there is an emergency, they can press the button, and help will be dispatched to their location. 

Staff can alert to the type of emergency based on the number of clicks they press on their alert button. 

One type of click indicates they need support from administration, while a different kind of click means the police must be contacted. 

For the facilities that have had Centegix installed, training at those locations is underway or scheduled to begin soon. 

Completion of the district-wide installation is slated for January 2024, with final training sessions once the installation is complete. 

Schools focus on safety infrastructure

Several ongoing capital projects are underway across the district to increase campus safety. Safety officials said these projects protect students and staff. 

Eyewash stations have been installed in all boiler rooms across district sites. Window film and coverings in open classroom areas are being installed as well. 

A grant-funded visitor management software system is being installed district-wide to track visitors virtually upon entering and leaving schools. 

Various schools are undergoing single-point entry enhancements – something the district has been working on for several years – and securing school perimeters. 

Smith asked what the enhancements and perimeter changes look like.

WCSD Trustee Adam Mayberry.
WCSD Trustee Adam Mayberry.

The district’s Chief of Facilities, Adam Searcy, said some vulnerabilities have been discovered and continue to be revealed along school perimeters. To address this, new or additional fencing has been added to prohibit unauthorized access, he said. 

Trustee Adam Mayberry said that most of the high schools in the district do not have single-point entry, which he feels is a safety concern. 

“Each and every time this has been discussed, we’ve taken that feedback very seriously,” Searcy said. 

He said that the operational complexities of high schools differ from those of elementary schools, so it has taken longer for high schools to be brought into the single-point entry efforts.

“That said, we’ve begun design conversations with all of the partners that will ultimately need to operate such an environment, such as police officers, administrators and the school community,” Searcy said. 

He said he hopes to create a prototype to be brought to the board in the next few months. 

“Throwing up some fences isn’t going to [be successful],” Searcy said. “We’re working on it.” 

Combatting sex trafficking 

WCSD School Police Detective Eric Diamond recently joined the Regional Human Trafficking and Exploitation (HEAT) Unit to prevent human and sex trafficking from occurring within schools. 

HEAT was created in 2020 and enlists officers and deputies from a number of local law enforcement organizations to combat trafficking. Diamond said school police were invited to participate in the HEAT unit last year to see what the schools could offer to the unit. 

The HEAT unit’s mission is to provide resources and protections to victims, especially juveniles, and actively pursue arrests of the individuals who exploit them. HEAT is working with district officials and administration to be able to help identify potential victims of trafficking.

In 2020, close to 130 victims of sex trafficking were recovered, 41 of whom were juveniles and 35 of whom were local juveniles. 

“There are juveniles being trafficked into our region as well as our own regional juveniles who are being victimized,” Diamond said. 

Recovery of a victim consists of physical intervention and breaking the cycle between the victim and their trafficker. 

“The HEAT unit is very new and groundbreaking,” Diamond said. 

“I’ve heard this is a rising issue,” Smith said. “Is this an issue that is expanding in our community?”

“On the whole, there are some increasing numbers,” Diamond said. “Some of those can be explained away by the fact that the team has grown over time. In 2020, there were only four detectives; now there are eight.” 

With the increase in detectives, Diamond said, there is also an increase in contacts and arrests. 

“We’re still trying to understand the full scope,” Diamond said. “I would personally describe it as relatively pervasive.” 

“We are so fortunate in this region to have the HEAT Team as well as [the nonprofit] AWAKEN,” Superintendent Susan Enfield said. “This is information we need to get to our students and our parents.” 

“We need to remove the stigma around this,” Smith agreed. “This affects our community across the board … This is a matter for our entire community to get behind.”

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