By Ray Hagar, Nevada Newsmakers
Darin Balaam, running for sheriff of Washoe County, said Monday on Nevada Newsmakers that he opposes giving guns to teachers as a way to combat potential school shootings.
“For me, I have kids in school,” said Balaam, the former assistant sheriff for Washoe County. “I want teachers to worry about teaching the kids. I don’t want them to worry about teaching and engaging someone who maybe coming in with a firearm.”
Balaam’s stance differs from that of President Donald Trump, who has championed the idea of arming teachers who are trained in firearms in the wake of the recent high school shooting in Parkland, Fla., where 17 people were killed.
Balaam, who is a member of the Washoe County School District’s Safe and Healthy Schools Commission, said teachers are usually too busy with other school-related issues to become proficient with firearms in a stressful situation.
“After listening to parents, and being a parent myself, I would also tell you that I want the best person that is trained, not someone who may have just gone through one class,” Balaam said.
Part of the solution is to have a police officer in every middle school and high school in Washoe County, Balaam said.
“I would rather look for ways that we can expand school police,” he said. “We (Safe and Healthy Schools Commission) have a goal of putting an officer in every middle school, as well as the high schools we have now. So I would rather put in an officer who is trained, who shoots more than the average public does, who knows and understands and has the tools, besides just a firearm, to engage someone that may be coming in and who is a threat to my kids or any other kids in the school.”
Hiring private security guards may also be an alternative, Balaam said.
“We need to think outside the box and if that is a better way where we think they are trained enough, that may be an option,” he said. “But I think we need to look at people who are trained enough and have the tools and let our teachers teach our kids.”
Students and teachers also need more training to know what to do if an active shooter is on campus, Balaam said. He offered other suggestions, too.
“Right now we are working on single points of entry. We’re working on perimeter (fencing) at the schools … door locks inside the schools.”
Last year, the Washoe school district approved $3.6 million to make its 96 school safer, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal. That money included $1.6 million for upgraded door locks and another $2 million to secure perimeter fencing and create single entries into elementary schools.
Balaam, son of former Washoe Sheriff Dennis Balaam (sheriff from 2000-2007), pushed back when asked if he thought the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office was “a good ol’ boys club.
“I don’t believe that,” he said.
Balaam spent more than 20 years in the WCSO but retired in 2015, after former Nevada Highway Patrol trooper Chuck Allen was elected sheriff in November of 2014. Balaam has been teaching criminal justice at Truckee Meadows Community College and Western Nevada College since then.
Although Balaam denied the “good ol’ boys club,” he said it could be difficult for someone outside the department to become a good sheriff.
“I would say yes and no,” Balaam said
“If you have the leadership and knowledge and some experience but then you surround yourself … like any good organization, if you bring in somebody from outside in the private sector and they surround themselves with the people who have that knowledge, you are going to succeed if you are a good leader.”
Balaam said he has been working on his campaign for sheriff for three years.
He officially announced his intention to run in December of 2016, at the same time Sheriff Allen said he would not run for re-election. The RGJ combined the news of Allen’s announcement about no re-election bid and Balaam’s intention to run for sheriff in the same story.
Allen was elected sheriff in 2014 after working at the Nevada Highway Patrol, where he was well known as the public information officer (PIO).
“I didn’t engage a lot with Sheriff Allen when he was at NHP,” Balaam said. “I knew he was a trooper, a PIO.
“What I tell people is this: The sheriff’s office is very complicated,” Balaam said. “This year our budget is $15 million. We have 752 employees. Our detention facility is the largest area within our office. And right now the average daily population is1,087 inmates.”
Allen’s time as sheriff has been overshadowed by a stunning 2017 report in the Reno Gazette-Journal that the Washoe County jail’s death rate had climbed precipitously after Allen took office on Jan. 1, 2015.
According to data obtained by the RGJ, only 10 inmates died between 2007 and 2014 — all but two of the deaths were from natural causes.
In the two years since Allen has taken office, 13 inmates have died in custody.
“The jail is very difficult and probably is our highest liability within the office,” Balaam said. “And if you don’t have the experience of running that area, understanding all of the liability that comes with that, it is very difficult.”
The situation, however, has improved recently under Allen, Balaam said.
In the past eight months, the jail has seen only one death, Balaam said: “And that death was (due to) natural medical issues. They would have passed away, no matter if they were at the hospital or (elsewhere).”