Sgt. Ben Henry has some sage advice for mountain residents on safety in schools and offices. (Photo by Mary-Justine Lanyon)
Do not get lulled into complacency
Sergeant urges folks to keep their eyes open
By Mary-Justine Lanyon
Sgt. Ben Henry of the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Station not only recapped 2022 for members of the Crestline-Lake Gregory Rotary Club, he also had some good advice on keeping students and co-workers safe in schools and offices.
As of November 2022, the sergeant said, Twin Peaks deputies responded to more than 20,000 calls for service, taking over 2,100 reports.
“We handle a lot of calls for service per deputy as we are a small station,” Sgt. Henry said, noting there are 18 deputies assigned to Twin Peaks. They have been approved for two additional deputies, which will ease some of the burden, but they are waiting to fill those positions.
Sgt. Henry said he started his career up here on the mountain, doing six years of patrol. “I am an honorary mountain man,” he said. When he was promoted, he expressed a desire to come back up here.
As the administrative sergeant, he is in charge of the detectives.
Catalytic converter thefts were “hefty” at the beginning of the year, Sgt. Henry said. “We did some focused enforcement and got tips from the community. We haven’t seen one in a number of months. We ‘fly the star,’ being proactive.”
The sheriff’s snow patrol is getting ready to start up again, funded by a county grant. Those deputies enforce illegal parking – they wrote more than 300 parking citations last year, the sergeant said. He expected the patrol to begin this past weekend.
“We will have more deputies out on an overtime basis to keep the mountain beautiful,” he said.
The Twin Peaks station participated in a multi-agency operation to address forest intrusion from OHV groups. “We took care of those issues,” Sgt. Henry said.
“The schools reached out to us,” he noted. “We are working closely with them on risk assessment. We want to protect the children.”
School board trustee Bill Mellinger told Sgt. Henry that “we appreciate what the sheriff’s department does and the assessment they did. That will probably have to happen multiple times.”
Mellinger asked what Sgt. Henry and the other law enforcement officers learned from the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.
“Every department is a little different,” Henry said. “And it changes from state to state. Cops in California receive some of the best training in the nation. The issues in Uvalde are ones we’ve already learned from and made changes.
“Our training is standardized throughout the entire state,” Sgt. Henry said. “We learn from every situation.”
Mellinger asked what can specifically be done at the elementary school level.
Lt. Craig Harris, who accompanied Sgt. Henry to the meeting, noted they had done a risk assessment. “The school district is applying for grant funds. We are talking about fencing the schools one at a time, upgrading cameras, installing air conditioning so doors don’t have to be propped open. This will take several years.”
Lt. Harris added the sheriff’s department is happy to go to businesses and schools to talk about emergency plans.
“We determine the best/worst case scenario on every call we go on,” the lieutenant said. He added they had served a search warrant on a house that morning. “Afterwards we dissect the situation – what did we do good, bad, how can we fix any problems.”
Everyone, Lt. Harris said, has to prepare for emergency situations. A teacher has to know what he or she would do if someone came into the classroom with a gun. “If you’re not prepared, you may freeze in fear. As a boss in an office, you need to do the same thing with your people.”
Complacency, Sgt. Henry said, is a dangerous thing. “This is such a quiet community. It’s easy to get lulled into complacency. We all have our routines. Some of the best advice I got is to really see what you’re looking at. Every day you have to take yourself out of being stuck in a routine.
“Do you notice something not quite right about your friend, your co-worker, your student? Talk to them. Ask them if they’re OK. Pay attention to what’s going on around you.
“Are we taking our drills seriously?” he asked. “We take fires very seriously – we have fire extinguishers, smoke alarms, fire drills. Are we doing active shooter drills regularly? We can smell a fire but we don’t know when an attack will happen. We have to prepare. It stinks to think that way but that’s the reality.”
Mellinger’s reaction was that “we have to balance. We don’t want to create fear, especially on an elementary campus. At what point are we creating more fear?”
“Do we not want to create any fear or limit the amount we create?” asked Sgt. Henry. “I’m a big fan of inducing a bit of fear, the reality of what would happen so the students will listen to the teacher.”
Lt. Harris said the Twin Peaks station will be using the former Grandview Elementary School for active shooter training. “It’s nice to have real life simulations. Reach out to us if you have an old building or an office building that’s empty on weekends. We would like to train there.”
Fentanyl use and overdoses are an ongoing problem throughout the county, Sgt. Henry said. The deputies are being trained on the use of Narcan, which they will carry. “They will be able to jump into action and not wait for Fire to get there,” he said.
The Twin Peaks station recently conducted a tobacco sting and found no violations. “People might ask, ‘why spend the money?’ It shows businesses are doing what they’re supposed to,” the sergeant said.
The Twin Peaks personnel continue to reach out to the community, holding events like Coffee with the Cops and even Skiing with the Cops. This past summer, they held a Pizza with the Cops in an effort to reach younger folks.
“We love you guys,” Sgt. Henry said. And Lt Harris noted that they are very appreciative of the support they get from the community.