Las Vegas Sun

October 2, 2014

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Public Safety:

Police take proactive approach to prevent violence on last day of school

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Steve Marcus

Metro Police Officer Dustin Bundy, Sgt. Phil Merges and Lt. Mike Wallace stand outside Brinley Middle School on Wednesday, June 4, 2014. A fight that was rumored to happen at a nearby park never materialized, they said.

Last Day of School: 2014

Children leave Reed Elementary School on the last day of school Wednesday, June 4, 2014. The Clark County School District and law enforcement agencies share information to curb fights, out-of-control parties and other problems. Launch slideshow »

The last day of school in Clark County used to be marked by major brawls and raucous water-balloon fights or shaving-cream wars.

“Disorder” is how police described the day, largely because of the potential for escalating violence. After all, teens didn’t have to worry about the consequences at school the next day.

Now, as students make their way to the last day of class, law enforcers are gearing up for a safety blitz. Their headquarters: a conference room in the Southern Nevada Counterterrorism Center with television screens listing school dismissal times.

A handful of law enforcers — representing Las Vegas, Henderson and school police — met at 6:30 a.m. yesterday to begin monitoring activity and relaying pertinent information to officers in the field. The operation is part of the School Violence Initiative, which formed after the 2008 shooting death of 15-year-old Christopher Privett near Palo Verde High School.

“Even if someone wanted to start a big fight, they’re going to run into a bunch of cops, and that will probably deter it,” Sgt. Reggie Rader of Metro’s Gang Crimes Bureau said.

Shortly after 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, two rumors have surfaced about planned fights at Eldorado High School and Findlay Middle School. The officers quickly direct additional officers to those schools.

Authorities know time is of the essence. In the Internet age, word of a fight can travel fast, garnering more onlookers or participants.

“The challenge these days is the use of social media and how prevalent it is in (students’) everyday lives,” Rader said.

It doesn’t take long for another threat to emerge straight from social media: Intelligence officers spot a tweet, seemingly from a teenage girl, who mentions committing a shooting at an unspecified elementary school. There’s no way of knowing whether it’s irresponsible chatter or a legitimate threat, so authorities open an investigation to identify the Twitter user and stop by her home.

Even if it’s a false alarm, “we’d like to send a message,” said Patrick Baldwin, director of crime analysis for Metro.

By 11:30 a.m., the rumor about a fight involving Findlay Middle School students seems to be panning out. Students from nearby Legacy High School have congregated at a park to wait for their slightly younger peers. Officers descend on the park while school officials alert students that police have closed it. The fight doesn’t happen.

But other end-of-year confrontations did happen at schools such as Palo Verde, Mojave and Western and were quickly diffused by law enforcement. Eventually, the police radio chatter dies down.

It’s officially summer break for Clark County’s 316,000 students — a time of year when authorities hope parents are extra vigilante monitoring their children’s activities.

“Really, our best defense is nosy parents,” Baldwin said.

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