LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Police work might be the most scrutinized profession in the country, according to Metro Sheriff Joe Lombardo.
In the past decade, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department has implemented stricter hiring standards and oversight, but as in any large organization, a few bad apples can still slip through the cracks.
How does Metro deal with officers who should not be allowed to carry a badge and gun?
“There’s nobody that dislikes a bad cop more than a cop,” Lombardo said.
Over the past 10 years, Metro has enacted new policies and training regimens to address the same issues that erupted into the streets all across the country this summer — use of force, racial sensitivities and transparency.
Changes enacted in hiring, training and policies are making a difference, Lombardo says.
The department puts it all in writing in its annual Use of Force report provided to the public.
Out of 1.5 million calls for service in 2019, officers used force 757 times, and nearly all of those involved hand techniques or electronic devices, not guns.
In police work, it is inevitable that force will be used.
“Let’s face it, there’s no nice way to take somebody into custody that doesn’t want to be taken into custody, quite frankly, so it doesn’t look good,” said Capt. Hector Cintron, who is in charge of Metro’s training unit. “But we train our folks to use patience, time and empathy.”
Lombardo is aware of the longstanding perception that police officers take care of their own, that a blue line forms around cops accused of wrongdoing.
And he’s aware that, historically, Metro has been perceived as an agency that won’t hesitate to use force.
To Metro’s harshest critics, any use of force is bad. The department has drawn clear lines and standards and when officers cross the line, there’s one guy they don’t want to see: Metro Internal Affairs Capt. Fred Haas.
“The range of options we have in the department … anywhere from counseling to termination,” Haas said.
He agrees with the sheriff: Cops do not want to work with bad cops. When complaints are filed, his team investigates.
The officer whose actions in the George Floyd case ignited mass demonstrations across the country this summer should have been terminated long before Floyd’s death, Haas said.
“He had 17 complaints. That is an astronomical number for any officer to have — even across a 25-year career.”
The sheriff has the authority to fire an officer.
But it’s not that simple.
Under a collective bargaining agreement with the police union, officers can appeal. An independent hearing officer sometimes overrules firings, reinstating officers who are no longer welcome on the force.
“And there are times that they give people their jobs back,” said Metro Deputy Chief Kelly McMahill. “And I would be lying if I told you that any of us is okay with that, but … it’s the rights of these officers.”
NEXT: Where does Metro stand on the nationwide call for sweeping police reforms?
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