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Metro Use of Force Policy and Drug Sniffing Dogs

Beyond a greater consideration of the suspect’s rights and safety, the new use of force policy adopted by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police represents a significant change in the force’s culture, says Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter Lawrence Mower.

“What they want is a cultural shift away from being a more hard-charging department to one in which officers go to a situation and they react more patiently, they have more measured approaches. Really it’s a smarter approach, an approach away from using the tools on their belt and instead using their hands and heads and speaking to people.”

Mower goes on to say that in the past, the department policy used language that said the police should “carry out the mission as effectively and unobtrusively as possible.”

Now, says Mower, the policy has language that explicitly states “We respect peoples’ lives, we respect their values…force is a measure to be employed in the most extreme cases.”

For example, the new policy includes an emphasis on deescalating situations and on taking different approaches to the mentally ill.

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“Just because they’re not obeying your order doesn’t mean they doing something illegal,” says Mower, “It might be that they don’t understand you. It might be that they’re distraught. ”

The new policy also features language that seems to run counter to the ‘we protect our own’ culture sometimes found in police departments.

From the document: “Any officer present and observing another officer using force that is clearly beyond that which is objectively reasonable under the circumstance shall, when in a position to do so, safely intercede to prevent the use of such excessive force. Officers shall promptly report these observations to a supervisor.”

These changes to the policy are apparently just the beginning of the evolution of how Metro uses force. The Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services will be looking at all aspects of how the metro uses force and how those things should be changed.

K-9 drug searches

Drug-sniffing dogs may not be as accurate as you think. Often dogs are responding, or ‘alerting,’ to drugs based on conscious or unconscious signals given by the police officer, rather than the actual discovery of drugs.

Ken McKenna, an attorney representing Nevada Highway Patrol officers who claim the standards of the K-9 program have been compromised says, “Anytime an officer is in the mood, either from profiling the suspect because of his heritage, or from his own personal suspicions, can cue the dog. The dog then alerts the drugs, and that now justifies probable cause to conduct a search, which the officer would not have been able to do had the dog not alerted.”

McKenna adds that one source of this K-9 problem is that dogs are raised, trained, and certified by the same people who sell the dogs, so there is a profit motive.

“No one at the law enforcement agencies seems to care whether the dogs are well trained or not, they just kind of say ‘we don’t care because we’re getting to search, and we don’t care that they’re illegal searches, and we don’t care that we’re violating citizen’s rights.’”

UC Davis researcher Lisa Lit conducted a study that shows if the handler clearly believes that there is some target scent there, they were more likely to call an alert.

“The problem is when handlers are on the field there’s no way to definitely state what biases they have or what theirs state of mind is,” says Lit.