SHERIDAN — Sheridan County Sheriff Allen Thompson said he has reached out to Normative Services Inc. officials again following an incident in which five of the school’s residents ran away from campus Saturday night.
The juveniles were located and returned to campus, but nearby residents were again alerted to the situation by a Code Red notification issued by local law enforcement dispatch. It warned neighbors to secure their vehicles and homes.
Over the last few years, neighbors have increasingly voiced concern about the school, which serves adolescents who often carry significant trauma and behavioral health diagnoses.
After the most recent incident, some neighbors expressed frustration that they weren’t notified when the students were found.
“We try to balance the need to keep the public safe without being too repetitive with Code Red notifications,” Thompson said. “Due to the huge number of cases at NSI in 2020 and 2021, we want the public to know there is a daily risk of vehicle theft by NSI students.
“It is very important that all vehicle keys are secured and all vehicles are locked, throughout Sheridan County, but especially near NSI,” he added.
Clayton Carr, NSI executive director, said a variety of issues affect the number of students at the school who attempt to leave.
“The holidays is a particularly difficult time for our youth,” Carr said via email. “Especially when our students have lost a family member.
“We provided a high level of support during the holidays,” he added. “The Sheridan community has certainly helped this holiday season with the generous outpouring of support. COVID protocols restricting travel/face-to-face contact with family is very difficult for our youth.”
Thompson also said he has again reached out to NSI officials to discuss the impact on the facility has on the SCSO and the community.
Currently, the SCSO staff is working reactively based on calls for service to the school and due to the immense time commitment, which hinders the sheriff and his team from working with NSI proactively.
Carr said the sheriff’s office has been “exceptional” in supporting NSI, as has the Sheridan County Attorney’s Office.
“We do not take lightly requesting assistance from Sheridan County,” he said. “We are committed to the safety of the community, NSI students and staff. We understand fully the recent demands of responding to NSI. We will request support to prevent campus issues from affecting our community.”
These are statements community members have heard before, though. Carr began working as NSI’s director in 2019. That year, approximately 50 community members and members of law enforcement expressed their concerns and offered suggestions to the school during a public forum. In 2020, Carr said a 10-foot chain link fence was installed along the back of the campus property and window alarms were installed — per the request of neighbors concerned about truant students on their property. But, NSI is not a locked facility.
Early in 2020, Thompson discussed having a more proactive presence on the NSI campus — envisioning a school resource officer presenting to classes, acting as a guest speaker or simply playing basketball with the students. Thompson said SCSO had one meeting with NSI then didn't hear further from the school.
"Meanwhile, our deputies responding to calls were met with more and more animosity from students (and at times staff), to the point where our staff was not comfortable with a proactive presence on the NSI campus," Thompson told The Press via email. "The deputies felt that any increased presence on campus actually created more issues with the students."
By late summer, Thompson said he informed NSI that the deputies would respond to all calls for service but we were no longer interested in planning for a proactive presence.
Thompson indicated he would discuss options with the Department of Family Services and other government entities in the coming weeks to determine what steps could be taken to mitigate NSI’s affect on the community. He is currently gathering data from around this region to compare NSI’s impact on local government services to similar institutions in other communities.
As of Tuesday morning, the SCSO had generated 11 cases at NSI since Jan. 8, Thompson said. That equaled 34% of the office’s entire caseload in the four-day period between Jan. 8-12.