LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Across the country, demonstrators have demanded police reform — even the defunding of police agencies. The push for reform was fueled by high-profile incidents in which suspects died in police custody.
Metro leaders say they have already embraced many of the reform measures and are willing to go even further.
The demonstrations that swept across the country this summer were mostly peaceful, with notable exceptions.
Las Vegas didn’t see the carnage of some cities, but there were physical clashes with police. As a result, complaints have been filed against officers. Investigators have reviewed thousands of hours of body cam video.
“So far, the ones we’ve gone through, we’re not seeing any misconduct issues but it is appropriate to do the investigation,” said Metro Internal Affairs Capt. Fred Haas.
Internal Affairs prides itself on not being a rubber stamp protector of bad cops. Over the past 10 years, Metro has undergone across-the-board changes in use of force standards, training and transparency.
The infamous TV images of officers squeezing the life out of George Floyd are repugnant, Metro says.
George Knapp: So something happens like George Floyd. Do you talk to officers and say, hey this cannot fly.
Capt. Hector Cintron: That discussion has been had by department and by every leader in this organization. It is clearly unacceptable.
The changes Metro initiated are most obvious at police academies, where new officers undergo rigorous screening and the training is almost twice as much as required by law.
A George Floyd-type incident could still occur here, but the culture has changed, according to the Citizens Review Board — the only use of force board in the country where private citizens outnumber the police.
Members are invited to active crime scenes where officers have used deadly force.
By policy, full briefings are held for the public and media, something that would have been highly unusual a few years ago. The citizens on the panel say they have actual power.
“We’re not all sitting in a room patting cops on the back and saying, ‘Oh, good job.’ That’s not what this is about. If there’s a question that needs to be asked, and it’s uncomfortable, then we’re going to ask.”
If willingness to change counts for much, Metro has shown it is still ready to adapt.
“All the things that Congress and the Senate are talking about and police reform have already become a part of our fabric,” according to Metro Sheriff Joe Lombardo.
Lombardo admits that instinctively he is old school. He was not initially enthusiastic about body cameras for officers, nor about community policing when it first was adopted.
But he’s become a champion for both.
And unlike some police chiefs around the country, he’s embraced even broader reforms.
“Defunding … I can support in some aspects,” he said.
Defunding the police entirely is not a realistic option, but Lombardo thinks society has dropped too much onto the plates of police officers. So if money needs to be diverted to social workers to handle the homeless or mentally ill, Lombardo says … bring it.
Most surprisingly, his department has embraced a level of transparency that is regarded as a model for other cities. Not perfect, but it might be the biggest cultural change of all for Metro.
“We’re not going to get it right all the time because we hire from the human race,” Lombardo said. “But we’re going to tell you when we did it wrong and there’s no hiding behind a cloak of secrecy or the blue wall. We don’t have that ability any more.”
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