Heidi Howe for Washoe County Sheriff FAQ
Fewer Deputies Than in 2001
21,000 Arrests per Year
Work with Local Vendors
Save Lives & Reduce Crime
As a retired cop, I thought the world of Heidi, and learned things about her that no campaign poster can convey. I trust her in front of me or behind me with a gun, to do the right thing no matter the fallout, and that she’s a good person. I also learned that she cared about fellow officers, the community and the offenders, and thrived on hard work.”
Law Enforcement – retired
What is your stance on the 2nd Amendment?
I am a supporter of the 2nd Amendment, as it is part of the foundation of our country. I personally own several weapons, and have used one to protect my family and home when someone broke in during the middle of the night (no, I did not have to fire a round and took him into custody).
I believe we are all asking for solutions to stop violence in our communities. But before we can stop the violence, we have to be willing to speak to each other as families, friends, and neighbors. No matter the politics, we deserve to feel safe.
Law enforcement officers are often called to reports of family disturbances, many fueled by substance use/abuse, mental and behavioral health situations, or a combination. As we saw with the Parkland shooter, law enforcement had numerous interactions with him before the school shooting. Not all calls for service constitute a crime. Families in crisis reach out to law enforcement for help when they don’t know where else to turn.
As a fan of common sense, I want to know what would actually work. It’s easy to connect with emotional triggers, instead of looking for evidence-based methods of reducing violence and saving lives.
In 2007 Nevada law changed, providing more options for victims of domestic violence. The law allowed the courts to temporarily remove weapons as a condition of extended orders of protection. States that restrict access to firearms by a person subject to a domestic violence restraining order are associated with a significant reduction in intimate partner homicides, with one study showing a 25% decrease of these homicides committed with a firearm (Zeoli & Webster, 2010).
In conducting research, I came across a recent report provided by the Rand Corporation, a non-partisan nonprofit think tank. The group recently conducted a 2-year review of Gun Policy in America. As we all might know, there is limited information due to a lack of research on gun policy. However, the study did show some areas where the data shows some success. One of those policies is discussed below.
The NRA recently came out to support what are commonly known as "red flag" or "high risk protection orders." This is a due process method of removing weapons, temporarily, from those in crisis. Family, friends, or law enforcement would have the ability to place weapons into safe keeping while the individual stabilizes. If a law like this had been in place in Florida for the Parkland shooter, it would have provided a tool for law enforcement to keep the community safer. Florida recently approved a red flag law (after the shooting), joining 5 other states. There are 22 others states considering these types of laws.
During the last legislative session our state brought forward SB387. The intent was to introduce protection orders for individuals deemed to be “high risk” by the court. Although there were productive conversations, bringing many points of view to the table, with support of some law enforcement agencies, the bill did not move forward. In the wake of past and recent events, I see this as a missed opportunity.
As a candidate for Sheriff of Washoe County, I don’t want to be the person to tell the family and friends of loved ones they’ve lost how there was nothing law enforcement could have done to stop the violence.
Do you have a plan to address the deaths at the jail?
During 2015 and 2016 the Washoe County Jail had a dramatic increase of in-custody deaths. This is unacceptable. No matter the circumstances, all loss of life is tragic, and taken seriously. This is a complex problem, which requires complex solutions.
No matter the cause, it’s the responsibility of the Sheriff to identify why this is happening and to find solutions, saving lives.
It is clear when looking at this problem, our community, and ultimately those who come into custody, are impacted by mental illness, substance use disorders, and overall health concerns. Place those individuals into stressful, crisis situations, and it’s a perfect environment for something to go wrong. It takes specialized training to prepare the staff of the Sheriff’s Office to properly respond to crisis events. It also requires sufficient staffing, not only to address crisis, but also provide adequate supervision, focusing on prevention.
The Sheriff’s Office, along with our entire community, was impacted by the economic downturn. Staffing was reduced, with a large portion of that reduction coming from the Detention Bureau. The Sheriff’s Office went from a total commissioned staff of 438 in 2008, to 407 in 2016, all while our community continues to grow. Additionally, the training budget was cut.
For cost savings, courses, which used to be conducted in person, were moved to video platforms. Scenario-based training was reduced, which had an impact on evaluating the performance of staff in stressful situations.
Prior to my retirement I increased jail-related training, sought technical assistance from subject matter experts, and provided recommendations to current leadership. One of those recommendations, in August 2015, was to seek another bid for inmate medical and mental health services, since the vendor was not supplying adequate staffing. Ultimately top leadership, to include the sheriff and their executive staff, made those decisions. Medical staff was finally increased during a contract extension in May 2017. Since that time the number of in-custody deaths has significantly reduced. Progress was made, but clearly more needs to be done, and I will do what it takes to save lives.
I am currently in contact with subject matter experts, community stakeholders, trainers, and dedicated providers, gathering ideas and support to work together. We must identify and implement best practices to make our community safer.
Some of those best practices include:
• Improve, increase, and invest in scenario-based training for all staff that comes into contact with individuals struggling with mental health, behavioral health, and substance use disorders.
• Creation of a task force to immediately address the safety and care of those in custody, implementing best practices from subject matter experts.
• Re-evaluating the agency’s practice of hiring for-profit vendors from outside the state for medical and mental health care.
• Utilizing more local medical providers for better continuity of care.
• Begin substance abuse treatment programs while individuals are in custody, connecting those in the program to local providers and resources in the community upon release.
• Exploring the inclusion of citizens on boards to review significant uses of force and deaths in custody.
I understand that actions speak louder than words. Solutions must be evidence-based. Progress reports would be provided to the community, ensuring transparency and continued dedication to keeping our citizens safe.
What are your thoughts on universal background checks?
I support protecting our community: ensuring prohibited individuals do not get access to weapons.
As the sheriff, our primary job is public safety. As I’ve discussed in other answers to questions connected to gun safety policy, I want to keep weapons out of the hands of people who should not have access to weapons. Whether the individual has been convicted of domestic violence, is a convicted felon, or identified with significant mental health issues, there are restrictions on who can purchase a weapon.
I am fully aware that individuals prohibited from purchasing weapons will still go into gun stores and attempt to purchase weapons. Thankfully gun stores have stopped these sales through the current federal background check process, notifying law enforcement when this happens. With this knowledge, we can only guess how many of individuals are circumventing the system through gun shows and private party sales. The purchase of any weapon should include a background check.
I've heard you don't have experience in patrol. Is this true?
I’ve noticed on the campaign trail, many people don’t know what the sheriff does. The role and responsibility of the sheriff is to run a $119 budget, manage over 750 employees, while providing the mandated functions of the sheriff: 1) maintain the jail, 2) provide bailiffs at district court, 3) ensure the service of civil process and subpoenas, 4) provide the search and rescue function for the county, 5) and keep the peace. The position is more of an administrator, running a large corporation.
I began my law enforcement career in 1988 with the Reno Police Department (RPD). While I was testing for a full-time position, I was a reserve police officer for 2 years. This included functioning as a second officer in a patrol unit.
I was hired as a full-time officer by RPD in 1990. I attended a patrol academy and began my training program. At the time RPD had 313 sworn officers, 13 of those were women. RPD had great intentions of improving diversity in the ranks, but it was still early. The culture of the agency needed work, and I was subjected to harassment during my training program. Back then you didn’t complain, you just moved on.
I was hired by the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office in 1991, as a jail deputy. The agency was not hiring patrol deputies, and had separate career paths. In 1995 Sheriff Richard Kirkland was elected and got rid of career paths, making all deputies certified for detention and patrol. I already had my training from my time with RPD. With the removal of career paths, came the decision to allow sergeants, lieutenants, and captains to be promoted into whatever position was open at the time, no matter if it was in patrol or the jail.
In 1996 I had the seniority to transfer to patrol. My choices at the time were to either go to patrol, or focus on promotion. The patrol training program had a bad reputation and was known for harassing and bullying female trainees. I loved my job in the detention bureau and decided to test for promotion. I promoted to Sergeant in 1998.
Although Sheriff Kirkland brought transparency and progress to the agency, this changed when Sheriff Dennis Balaam was selected by Sheriff Kirkland to finish out his 2nd term in 2000. Dennis Balaam ran for office and was elected in 2002. I tested for Lieutenant in 2006, and placed #1 on the promotional exam. Dennis Balaam decided to change policy. I was required to sign a memo, stating that since I had not gone to patrol as a deputy 10 years earlier, I would not be allowed to go to the Operations Bureau (Patrol and Detectives) as a supervisor.
In 2007, the next sheriff decided to restrict policy even further. He directed changes to the promotional process, changing the scoring criteria, giving advantage to individuals who had worked all 3 bureaus (Detention, Administration, and Operations), with extra points for those with experience in investigations (Detectives or Internal Affairs). I requested the opportunity to gain experience in other bureaus. I was told I would not be allowed to do so because I had not gone to patrol back in 1996. The Sheriff's solution was for me to demote from Lieutenant, back to deputy, and start over. This would have caused me to lose about $30,000 a year in pay with no guarantee I would get promoted in the future. Needless to say, I chose not to demote.
The Patrol Division is important and is the “face” of the Agency. They provide patrol services for the unincorporated areas of the county, which covers about 100,000 citizens of our 460,000 population. Patrol is 25% of the budget, and even less than 25% of the personnel. The Detention Bureau functions in the background, and is the only jail in the county, booking for over 30 different agencies (including the Reno Police Dept. and Spark Police Dept.), with over 21,000 arrestees coming through the door each year. The average daily population of the jail sits at about 1100 inmates. The Detention Bureau is 50% of the budget, about half the personnel, and most of the liability. Running our jail is like being the mayor of a small city.
In addition to my time with RPD, I had experience as a training officer, hostage negotiator, commander of a tactical team, District Court Sgt., Commander of the Regional Police Academy, and managed a $20 million jail expansion. I attended police leadership schools in Boston and Kentucky, and obtained my Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice Administration.
The conversation about the importance of our different bureaus, which includes a self-imposed caste system within the agency, is not a new one. We tend to focus on the more exciting assignments of the job, and dismiss those working hard in the background. Hopefully this information provides an overview of the challenges within the agency.
The elected Sheriff has the ability to impact the lives of those who work for them. My goal, if elected, is not only to provide fair and impartial services to the citizens, but also ensure the same is done for those who work at the Sheriff's Office. We need to give all employees the opportunity to be successful, creating a fulfilling and rewarding career, embracing their role as a public servants, no matter where they serve in the agency.
Are you at all interested in helping expedite the CCW application process in Washoe County, which currently takes nearly the entire 120 days, permitted by statute?
The only way to speed up the background process for CCW's is to hire more staff to conduct them. At this time, the WCSO processes over 5,000 CCW's a year and meets the statutory requirements to process those applications in the 120-day timeframe. As Sheriff, I would have to make the decision of what is more important, funding a position for deputy sheriff, or a civilian who is processing CCW applications. Considering that the WCSO currently has fewer deputy sheriffs assigned to the agency now (407) than they did in 2008 (438), we have a responsibility to place deputies on the road and staffing the jail
What is your position on immigration law?
This is a polarizing topic, creating debate across the country. I appreciate concerns and fears on both sides of the argument, acknowledging the impact to families and lives. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has primary jurisdiction for enforcement of immigration law dealing with illegal entry.
As per policy, the detention of an undocumented immigrant by the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) should be based upon the reasonable belief that an individual is involved in criminal activity. The primary concern of the WCSO is the detection of criminal behavior.
The WCSO allows ICE to conduct interviews of individuals arrested for violations of State or local law, currently in custody at the Washoe County jail. This is a regional jail, housing for over 30 different agencies. The WCSO allows all law enforcement agencies to conduct investigations, and this includes ICE. This is to improve public safety; ensuring individuals who commit crimes don’t victimize our community.
Federal law (8 U.S.C. § 1373) prohibits policies that impede cooperation between federal, state, and local officials when it comes to the sending, requesting, maintaining, or exchanging of information regarding immigration status. The WCSO provides a daily report, listing all individuals in custody who are foreign born. ICE choses which individuals to interview. Once an inmate’s local charges are satisfied, the WCSO will only retain with a warrant. If ICE does not provide a warrant, the individual will be released from custody.
Additional questions have been asked regarding the WCSO’s involvement in the 287G Program. For those who do not know about the program, it is where local law enforcement enters into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with ICE, becoming deputized to enforce immigration law. The WCSO does not participate in this program, nor would I as Sheriff. Immigration enforcement is the jurisdiction of ICE. Considering the WCSO has fewer deputies now than we did in 2001 due to budget cuts, we need to focus on local crime and public safety.