Threat of shootings prompts Metro to step up role in keeping campuses safe

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Miranda Alam/Special to the Sun

Metro Police Capt. Sasha Larkin speaks at a safety briefing ahead of the new school year at Metro headquarters in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019.

Thu, Aug 8, 2019 (2 a.m.)

Discussing student safety initiatives geared for this upcoming school year, Metro Police Capt. Sasha Larkin dug her hand into a tiny backpack.

The bag — adorned with colorful silhouettes of dinosaurs — was too small to carry much but spacious enough to conceal a deadly weapon. So, to prove a point, Larkin pulled out her hand, this time grasping a handgun.

Late Wednesday morning, a mere five days before Clark County School District students once again walk the school hallways — and two weeks before college students are back in class — officials gathered at the Southern Nevada Counter Terrorism Center to outline their preparations to keep students and staff safe this academic year.

Larkin announced that a task force that comprises Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents and Metro officers would begin to respond to any gun-related incident at schools beginning this school year. This would allow for immediate follow-up probes in which the weapons would be quickly traced and tested to see if they’d been used in other crimes, Larkin said.

Officials did not shy away from mentioning the active-shooter massacres in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, over the weekend. Las Vegas would know about mass shootings.

But “honestly,” Larkin said, “we refuse to accept that mass shootings are just part of our culture now — absolutely we refuse to accept that.”

Last school year, police at schools confiscated 17 firearms in addition to 33 BB and airsoft guns.

“We know that under our watch, the most important people in our families and in our lives, our children, we have to be prepared to keep them safe when they head back to school,” Larkin said.

Over the summer, Clark County School District Police officers rode along with their Metro counterparts to familiarize themselves in case they’d have to work side-by-side if tragedy struck at a valley campus, said School Police Capt. James Ketsaa. There were also active-shooter training and “stop the bleed” training exercises, he added.

This academic year, Ketsaa said, police were increasing the number of officers guarding high schools and those who will patrol around campuses. Officials were hoping to double the number of K-9 officers to eight. Police dogs from the K-9 unit, which debuted last school year, are trained to spot guns.

Southern Nevada higher-education institutions beginning Aug. 26 will host some 85,000 students and staff members. There were “massive and robust” efforts to beef up safety at those places, said Adam Garcia, associate vice president and director of university police services. A new dispatch center was just built, he said.

Officials touted the partnerships among valley agencies in training and communication. For example, Metro officers must be familiar with principals, school police officers and floor plans of schools around the areas they patrol, Larkin said.

Equally important is the collaboration of students, who should report anything unusual, and their parents, who should be involved in their child’s life and monitoring their activities, Larkin said.

Disagreements — in person or virtually — can quickly turn into shootings or mass killings, Larkin warned.

Safety is paramount in learning institutions, CCSD Superintendent Jesus Jara said.

“We will ensure that our campuses are safe starting Day One and the remaining 179 days following,” he said. “Safety is our top priority … if our children and staff are not safe, they cannot learn and adults can’t teach.”

Tips and information regarding possible threats quickly cycle through this counterterrorism room — also known as the fusion center — located at Metro headquarters. Officers are able to relay real-time information from live surveillance camera feeds.

On Wednesday, screens on a wall broadcast those images. TVs were tuned to the major cable news networks, where pundits were discussing the recent mass shootings in Texas and Ohio.

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