Harris spoke about the importance of maintaining safety for all of Boone County’s residents, schools, business owners, and visitors and emphasized that prioritizing public safety isn’t a new initiative for the Boone County Sheriff’s Department nor for any of the county’s public safety agencies throughout the county.
Communication Is Key
Harris shared that all of the county’s public safety agencies collaborate with one another in training exercises on a regular basis and that they have been doing so for years. He emphasized that having proper procedures in place and communicating between the agencies so that all are on the “same page” should an incident such as a mass shooting or incident at one of the county’s schools ever take place is essential. In the words of former Boone County Sheriff Michael Nielsen, “It’s not if but when,’” and Harris, who has risen through the ranks at BCSO under Nielsen’s leadership and mentorship, also subscribes to that ideology and has no plans to dilute any of the efforts and momentum to keep Boone County at the top of its game, as it relates to public safety measures, when he takes office at the first of the year.
“I think it is imperative for the public to know that we’re all on the same page,” Harris stated. “We’re not on opposite pages, especially when it comes to public and school safety. We did active shooter training earlier this year. All of the [Boone County] agencies got together and trained together to make sure that we’re ‘up to snuff’ on what we need to be prepared for — inside the schools.”
Harris continued, “We’ve been doing training, like this, for years. Obviously, [former] Sheriff Nielsen started working on this long before the Noblesville [school shooting] incident, but when that happened, it got a lot of people’s attention. And then we were putting school resource officers [SROs] in every school instead of just one or two, and we continue to work closely with the schools on red flag assessments on individuals who might be posing a threat so that we can derail it before it ever hits the school to begin with.”
Harris explained that BCSO and the county’s public schools are equipped with technology that gives them the ability to thwart a threat if it makes its way into our county’s public spaces, workplaces and/or schools.
Harris added, “Communication is key with the county’s schools and with those [public safety] agencies that have jurisdiction in the school districts. We work to make sure that we are all on the same page and that we’re all doing the same things by communicating and by training together.”
Getting Ahead of Potential Crisis
Harris addressed the mental health issues that afflict our county and the importance of collaborating with the mental health organizations that exist to help every demographic that makes up the county’s population that needs their services. Specifically, Harris touched on the importance of the SRO relationships with students that may be in crisis and how that goes way beyond being a first responder on a school campus.
“Our children are our county’s most valuable assets,” Harris said. “The relationships that are built between SROs and students will have lifelong impacts, and we may never know the impact that these relationships actually had on the rest of their lives or what these relationships have already stopped that could have happened but didn’t because the SROs were there. We need our students to know that we’re there to help them and that they can run to a person in a uniform and that they are going to help them — not hurt them.”
Always on Call and Prepared to Respond
It is unfortunate that active shooters are part of our current day society’s vernacular, but the reality is that communities must continue to have open and honest dialogue and practice preparedness in the event that public safety is threatened.
“Anytime a shooting happens anywhere in our nation, we [BCSO] are paying attention,” Harris affirmed. “We don’t ‘Monday morning quarterback’ the situation, but we try to dissect it to see what went right and what went wrong in that situation. We ask if we are implementing the right measures and are we making sure that we are on the forefront of what is happening in our county and in our schools to make sure we stay ahead of any potential threats.”
Harris explained that Boone County residents as well as businesses owners and staff can partner with BCSO and assist in these public safety efforts simply by saying something if they see something and by being vigilant.
“We’ve got officers driving all over the county, but if the public sees something that looks ‘off’ to them, it could be a clue to something that we’re actively trying to solve or break. So, information is imperative for us to have, even if it seems really minute to them at that point in time. We can go through [the information] and make sure it really isn’t something.”
Harris stressed that people could remain anonymous when calling in to report something. He added, “If they state that they want to remain anonymous, then we are going to leave it at that on that tip they give us. Tips provided by the public are huge for us.”
Harris paused and then concluded, “The entire community has to work together and communicate with one another if we are to be the safest county.”