The ‘Sheriff Whisperer’: Longtime Metro communications director retires, leaves lasting impact on department

I-Team Special Reports

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — One of the most influential voices within the Metro Police Department is stepping down.  Carla Alston’s name and face should be familiar to many locals — she has spent 18 years as the head of Metro’s Public Information Office.   

Before that, she was an iron-fisted news manager and intrepid reporter here at 8 News Now.  

Now, the I-Team is looking back at how Alston became the “Sheriff Whisperer.” 

“There were a lot of people who didn’t know me, and they thought I was a spy, they still considered me media,” Alston said. “I was part of the dark side.”  

Carla Alston, a veteran newswoman with a tough reputation, wasn’t welcomed with open arms when she was hired by Sheriff Bill Young back in 2003.  

She had spent 10 years in two stints with KLAS-TV, as a reporter, anchor and assistant news director, covering pretty much everything in this dynamic news town.  

Alston covering a helicopter tour crash near the Grand Canyon during her time at KLAS

 She gravitated to the police beat, and some of her stories struck a nerve with Metro.  

Carla Alston: “I often took on tough stories. And I can recall getting phone calls from some folks here at Metro saying, you know, what was that story about?” 

George Knapp: “Yelling at you?” 

CA: “Yeah, they were upset. And me pushing back and saying, Hey, you know, that’s my job.” 

Prior to her hiring, the job of interacting with news media fell to ranking officers with little or no media training. At the suggestion of PR Godfather Sig Rogich, Sheriff Young hired Alston to run the Public Information Office.  

There had never been a civilian in the job before.  

“He said ‘we need somebody like yourself who understands cops, who knows the department who knows how police officers think, but also can educate them on the media, and why that relationship is necessary and important,’” Alston said. “He saw that the department wasn’t doing a good job in terms of pushing out information, being more proactive, being more open minded and transparent.”  

 It took time, but Alston coached her Metro colleagues about how to be better communicators and why transparency was in Metro’s own interest.  

She formed personal bonds with Sheriff Young and his successors — Doug Gillespie and current Sheriff Joe Lombardo.  

She was a confidante, morale booster, and at times, a ferocious defender of the department.  

Under those three sheriffs, metro underwent a remarkable transformation, instituting sweeping changes on use of force policies, officer training and disciplinary measures when mistakes are made.  

Alston remembers every one of the names that became news stories because of officers’ actions.  

“Some very high-profile cases that have been very ugly for the department: Stanley Gibson, Travon Cole, Eric Scott, Tashi, farmer, Byron Williams, those cases have been hard,” Alston said. “None of them have been easy. But I can say this, after every single one of those incidents this department has learned.”  

Alston credits the three sheriffs for their commitment to long-term changes that have made Metro one of the most progressive police agencies in the country.  

As the “Sheriff Whisperer,” she helped shape this transformation. She has also educated the media about the very real risks of police work.   

 “I’ve been here for 10 officer deaths,” Alston said. “Every single one of them has been hard, difficult to go through.”  

She remembers every one of those names too.  

After 18 years of being on call 24/7, Alston says she’s ready to slow things down a bit. And who knows, maybe there are still big stories waiting to be broken and where her expertise will be needed.  

GK: “I hope you’re downloading all the secret files and can share them with a friendly reporter or something.” 

CA: “Keep waiting.” 

GK: “There must be secrets.” 

CA: “There are no secrets. We’re an open book, George.”  

The I-Team reached out to Sheriff Joe Lombardo and former Sheriff Doug Gillespie regarding Alston’s retirement. You can find their full quotes below: 

“Carla was hired by Sheriff Bill Young. She came directly from broadcast news and was raw and non-political. Some would say anti-police. After some brainwashing and two more Sheriff’s she became our biggest advocate. Nobody can control an unruly crowd better than her” “I consider Carla a friend and a co-worker, never a subordinate. We will miss here greatly and so will the broadcast community.” 

LVMPD Sheriff Joe Lombardo 

“I met Carla when Bill asked her to be his PIO.  I had of course heard of her and see her on air but we had never met.  Bill made a great move at Metro when he brought her in.  It really took our PIO office to the next level.  Prior to Carla the PIO was an internal appointment. 
 
I think she was hired in 2007.  Since that time she has worked non stop on improving the office and mentoring her people.  Her hard work not only made that office better it made it one that other police organizations around the country use as a model.  If you think just about social media and its influence on metro.  We had no social media when she was hired.  Her ability to develop systems and processes to make Metro a friendly user is just one example of her leadership. 
 
I think Carla was most influential in her development of the people who worked for her.  Today throughout Metro there are employees who spent time working with her.  They are now Assistant Sheriffs, Deputy Chiefs to list a couple. They are people who I have heard say she was instrumental in their growth as a leader.  This type of personal development is no accident. It takes a special person with a true commitment to make these type of impacts.  She worked many hours on the nuts and bolts of the job.  She worked even harder at developing her people. 
 
On a personal note.  I consider Carla not only to be a close friend but a true partner.   During my tenor as Sheriff we moved the organization forward.  Some days better than others.  When I was having one of those challenging days I could always count on Carla to talk through the issues.  I appreciated her honesty.  She saw things through a different lens than I.  She brought a different perspective.  One that was very valuable to me.  My tenor would not have been as rewarding as it was without her.  I owe her a debt of gratitude. 
 
George, in my profession the best personal compliment I can give a person is to call them my partner.  I learned long ago you are only as good on the Street as your partner riding next to you in your police car.  I have had some great partners in my time, Carla being one of them.  I truly am grateful for her support and guidance over the years. 
 
Carla will be missed at metro.  However her influence will not be gone.  Those she mentored will continue to carry the load.  They will pass along the legacy of her tenor at Metro.  She may not have carried a gun or a badge.  But, she lead from the front.  Showing many the right way, the honest way the Metro way.” 

Former LVMPD Sheriff Doug Gillespie 

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