LAS VEGAS (KLAS) – On Monday, The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) released video and information to the media about a violent stabbing of one of its officers, followed by five explosive gunshots that neutralized and killed the aggressor, 25-year-old Sandra Lopez-Ochoa.
The information on the stabbing – and shooting – and the video came at a news conference at LVMPD headquarters in downtown Las Vegas.
Credentialed members of the media were and often are present at such events, including broadcast, digital, print, electronic, and foreign language outfits.
Generally, LVMPD holds news conferences within 72 hours and is known to provide frequent updates on these matters.
Contrast that with the police shooting on June 24. Police set up a staging area after one of their officers shot and killed a man at a bus stop near Boulder Highway to keep the media out and gave scant details.
Almost a month later, following no discernable timeline, the Henderson Police Department (HPD) released what they refer to as a news conference.
With no media present, the HPD brass explained in a YouTube video the events leading up to and including the killing of that suspect – Steven Brucker, 53 – mispronouncing his name (as Bruckner) throughout.
They offered no opportunity for any member of the media to inquire, challenge, criticize, follow up, or otherwise engage with regard to those events.
Immediately pressed by the 8 News Now Investigators with a request for an on-camera interview, the HPD responded curtly: “We cannot accommodate your request for interview,” the public information office wrote. Their salutation and closing were almost as long as the body of the email.
The same office emailed the 8 News Now Investigators to say that the Henderson police chief, Hollie Chadwick, would not answer questions for the story, which was described to city officials as an investigation into “transparency in local government.”
In May, in Chadwick’s first week on the job as chief of the department made herself available to the 8 News Now Investigators for a sit-down interview.
When asked whether the city and its officials make it difficult to access information she had the following to say.
“There’s no reason why we would be making things difficult,” Chadwick said. “And moving forward we will make sure that all the documentation and transparency are there for the community.”
Chadwick is Henderson’s fifth police chief since 2012. Her two predecessors each left the department on bad terms – one suing for discrimination and wrongful termination and the other after receiving votes of no confidence from the city’s two police unions.
Requests to interview the members of the Henderson City Council and Henderson’s Mayor, Michelle Romero, were forwarded to HPD by a city spokeswoman: “If you haven’t already reached out, I am looping in the HPD Public Information Officer team due to the nature of your request, as the topics you are inquiring about pertain to the Police Department’s operations,” an email said.
Councilman Dan Stewart of Henderson’s Fourth Ward, at one of the city’s recent “Morning Meet Ups” with the individual councilmembers and voters, provided some clarity on the issue of these so-called news conferences.
“I think it’s a good way to get the information out,” Stewart told the 8 News Now Investigators, calling the process “cumbersome.”
“Might not be the best, but I think it’s certainly adequate at this point,” he added.
Stewart admitted that the council and the city’s executive panel, including Romero, are aware of questions about the city’s transparency.
“That’s something we’re looking into,” Stewart said. “Because it’s been raised before.”
One member of the law enforcement community in Henderson also told the 8 News Now Investigators that transparency is an issue in Henderson – both with the virtual press conferences and with the city attorney’s office in particular.
Attorney Andrew Regenbaum, the executive director of the Nevada Association of Public Safety Officers, represents officers and supervisors in Henderson’s two police unions.
He acknowledges that under Chadwick, the police department seems more forthcoming with information, but that the city attorney’s office does not.
“There are inconsistent standards and I think there’s a lack of transparency from the city attorney’s office,” Regenbaum told the 8 News Now Investigators.
Explaining that he has trouble getting information and documents he needs in order to represent his clients in disciplinary, personnel, and other matters, Regenbaum elaborated.
“My concern is for the officers that I represent,” he said. “And to the extent that the public wants transparency when you have a major event such as an officer-involved shooting, I think it’s important for the officers that the public know what happened as soon as possible.”
The Henderson Police Department provided the following statement to 8 News Now:
“The Henderson Police Department understands the importance of transparency and prioritizes open communication with its community.
To provide stakeholders within the community and the media with pertinent information about major police incidents, HPD provides recorded videos called Critical Incident Community Briefings and publishes them on YouTube, social media, and Nextdoor in addition to emailed press releases to our partners in the media. This practice allows all stakeholders to readily view Critical Incident Community Briefings at the same time.
Regarding how HPD releases crime data, the City of Henderson website has an open data portal for anyone to access the latest crime data. Additionally, the HPD’s landing page on the City of Henderson website provides access to annual reports, geographical crime searches, crime statistics, and sex offender listing.
The Henderson Police Department is committed to open communication with community members and strives to accommodate and respond to resident, business, and media inquiries.”