Mona Shield Payne
Monday, March 17, 2014 | 2 a.m.
Detective Thomas Rainey leafs through the letters on his desk, a stack of treasured mementoes of his five years as an officer at Bonanza High School.
“I like this one,” he says. It's penned in pink ink and big, bubbly strokes by then-sophomore Kristy Flores, who thanks Rainey for “protect(ing) us from the bad kids” and for lending an ear when Flores needed it.
The correspondence comes from dozens of students who have written to Rainey since 2006 when he became an officer for the Clark County School District. They're a symbol of Rainey's role as a deeply influential force on thousands of young lives in the district — some Bonanza graduates even credit him for inspiring them to pursue law enforcement careers.
“You have to be a counselor and a mentor to students,” the soft-spoken officer and dad of two young girls said during an interview in his office. “Sometimes you have to be a second father.”
Rainey’s phone rings.
Former Bonanza student April Bunagan seeks his advice: Bunagan is about to graduate from UNR with a criminal justice degree and she just passed the first selection phase at the Sacramento Police Department Academy, but she's not sure if she should continue pursuing the job. What if she gets homesick in California?
“You’re going to be fine — you’re a kid. Just go through the whole process,” Rainey tells Bunagan gently. “Don’t be scared.”
Calls and visits from former students are frequent. A week before the interview, Rainey met with 2011 graduate Adrian Flores, who wants to join CCSD's police force.
“Ever since I met (Rainey), I fell in love with what he did,” said Flores, who works as a teacher’s assistant at CCSD. “Just knowing him and how he interacted with the kids, I mean seeing how good of a person he was — it got me thinking, ‘I could do that when I get out of here.’”
Rainey started his law enforcement career in 1994 as a deputy with the Crowley County Sheriff's Department in Colorado. The birth of his first daughter, now 12, piqued Rainey’s interest in working with youths and being closer to his Las Vegas relatives, which led to a job with CCSD in 2006.
He was promoted to the rank of detective in 2011.
“Being a school police officer is one of the greatest things,” Rainey said. “Helping young people ... this is definitely for me.”