LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Demands for police reform have been front and center in 2020, igniting protests in big cities all across the country, including in Las Vegas. Leaders at the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department say they have already embraced changes to policy across the board. Hiring and how officers interact with the communities they serve are affected.
All this week, 8 News Now is looking into how Metro Police measures up.
In a nondescript warehouse in east Las Vegas, something heavy is going down as officers cautiously move in on an armed and troubled man, unsure of how this might end. Elsewhere in the same building, other officers creep toward an apartment where an agitated resident is holed up with a weapon.
Both of these scenarios unfold multiple times per week as veteran officers re-learn how to engage but de-escalate.
“We’re a best practice agency,” said Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo. “We are visited by agencies across the nation on how we do things.
Sheriff Lombardo is proud of how far Metro has come in the last ten years. Las Vegas cops have long had the reputation of being tough customers.
Before this summer’s demonstrations and demands for reform, Metro was ahead of the curve.
Racial tensions and the use of force controversies have a long history in Las Vegas. Long before the death of George Floyd in Minnesota, the chokehold death of Las Vegan Charles Bush enflamed passions.
In 1992, the aftermath of the acquittals of the officers in the Rodney King trial ignited fires and violence. A decade ago, Metro Police had to confront the ugly numbers showing an inordinate number of shootings by Police, many of them both black and unarmed.
“We had the Dept. of Justice come in here and evaluate us,” Lombardo said. “I think the testament to LVMPD is, ‘yeah, the DOJ came in.’ We didn’t push back them coming in. We embraced them. We asked them to come in. There wasn’t a consent decree leveled against us. It was a collaborative reform.”
Metro Police instituted changes from top to bottom in hiring, training, use of force, and oversight of officers.
“I can pull up a dashboard of every officer that works for me,” said Kelly McMahill, Deputy Chief Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. “I can see how many traffic accidents they’ve been in, how many use of force issues they’ve had, non-deadly and deadly. How many complaints they’ve had from citizens.”
Metro has also become aggressive when it comes to recruiting women and minorities to join the force. They’re also doing more policing where officers get to know the neighborhoods they patrol.
According to Capt. Jim Larochelle, the policy wonk in the sheriff’s office, says Metro has become a model for other big-city police departments.
“We’ve been at the forefront of their training addressing scenario-based training where you are trying to create an environment that mirrors the real thing,” said Capt. LaRochelle
Being better is not good enough because one bad apple can besmirch an entire agency. Metro still gets slapped with lawsuits almost weekly. Justifiable or not — it will probably always be that way.
“It’s like I’ve always said, we hire from the human race, all the good bad and indifferent and faults and bugs and warts, and sometimes we can’t weed all that out.
On Tuesday, the I-Team’s series continues with a look at whether African-American police officers agree with their employer’s direction and how they feel about the current environment. It will air on Channel 8 at 5 p.m. and 11 p.m.
State of Metro:
In a five-day series, 8NewsNow looks at reform in the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, and the questions raised by Black Lives Matter protests.
Nov. 16: (overview): I-Team: Metro police face-to-face with racial tensions in Las Vegas
Nov. 16: I-Team: Examining how Metro stacks up when it comes to police reform policy changes
Nov. 16: State of Metro: By the numbers
Nov. 17: I-Team: Black police officers are in the middle as protests flare, challenges grow
Nov. 17: I-Team: Black police officers set national example for community service
Nov. 18: I-Team: Use of Force Board gives citizens an inside voice in Las Vegas police matters
Nov. 18: I-Team: 2019 death of Byron Williams brings attention to Metro policies on use of force
Nov. 19: I-Team: ‘We don’t use any virtual reality,’ Metro trains using real-life scenarios
Nov. 19: I-Team: Police hiring is crucial to building a force Las Vegas can trust
Nov. 20: I-Team: ‘There’s nobody that dislikes a bad cop more than a cop,’ sheriff says
Nov. 20: Deaths in police interactions, 2013-2020 — MAP
Nov. 20: I-Team: Metro reaction to police protests mirrors progress, willingness to change