LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — The Las Vegas chapter of the Black Police Officers Association knows community service, and sets an example for others across the country.
“Las Vegas has become the chapter as far as events,” says Regina Coward-Holman, president of the Las Vegas Chapter. “A lot of other states look up to us to see what we are doing.”
With events like back-to-school fairs, holiday programs and most recently, drive-thru food banks for families, the Las Vegas BPOA chapter has won awards — including the prestigious Willie Smoot Award.
Coward-Holman was a Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department officer for more than 20 years.
“Service is everything,” she says. “Because if you can’t serve, you’re not going to be effective.”
Coward-Holman and current Metro officer Adrian Hunt realize their race and background influence the job.
“That is our job,” Hunt says. “It’s to bridge the community that we grew up in and to show they, ‘Hey, we are here. We are regular people just like you guys.’ “
Founded in 1972, the BPOA’s mission is to be the conscience of the criminal justice system, advocate for officers of color and improve the quality of life in the Black community.
And in the Black community, the excessive use of force by police is a recurring issue.
The death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man killed in police custody in Minneapolis, and the death of Breonna Taylor, shot to death in her Louisville home, triggered protests across the country.
And that led to discussion on police reform, systemic racism and implicit biases.
“Nationally, we hosted a lot of town halls. Our national chair was on every talk show,” Coward-Holman says. “It’s about being accountable and doing the right thing. It’s not easy to. It takes bravery and honor to do the right thing.”
Black men are twice as likely as white men to die in an interaction with police, according to a report in the American Journal of Public Health.
In addition, Black people make up only 7% of the police force and 10%of the entire staff, including civilians.
Officer Hunt says that is cause for concern.
“I push to get more people who look like me in the department,” Hunt says.
Metro has a Multicultural Advisory Council that provides feedback to Sheriff Joe Lombardo monthly.
But Coward-Holman says Black officers should be at the table with leadership more often and help train the department when it comes to racial issues.
She says frequent cultural awareness classes can save lives.
“Who better to teach classes than the people that work for you — who know both sides of the story,” Coward-Holman says.
She says tension embedded in our country’s history can only be healed by working together.
“We’ve been in this community pounding the sand for the past 20 years. But for the last eight years, we’ve been pounding it hard because we have to make a change,” she says.
“The department can’t do it by themselves.”
NEXT: Use of force policies and how complaints against officers are investigated
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