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New Recruits And Old Practices: Metro Police On Prostitution Sweeps, Officer Shootings And More

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It's been a year since Joe Lombardo was voted in as Clark County Sheriff. So what has changed?

It’s been almost a year since Clark County residents elected a new sheriff, Joe Lombardo.

In that time, a lot has happened in law enforcement locally.

More recently, issues over cell phone privacy, jail overcrowding and an $80,000 settlement have been in the news.

Undersheriff Kevin McMahill, second-in-command of the 2,800-officer police force, talks with KNPR's State of Nevada about the ongoing policy and use-of-force changes in the department.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS:

The last time we had Metro on, we talked a bit about jail overcrowding. Now the sheriff has gone on record, with 130 other law enforcement leaders, asking for changes to lower incarceration rates. They want to get rid of mandatory minimum sentencing, unrealistically harsh laws and poor mental health treatment. Now, I’m sure Metro isn’t saying just release people. What is Metro saying?

“We’ve finally got to the point where the major leaders across the United States that lead major metropolitan police departments are coming to the conclusion that the system we all grew up in which was effective investigation, arrest and incarceration isn’t really doing the job that needs to be done”

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“The bottom line is incarceration does not fix the issues that an individual is incarcerated for”

A Las Vegas Sun story said that statistics have led to this change of opinion. What statistics are out there that tell Metro that harsh penalties and mandatory minimums and bad mental health treatment are not the way to go?

“This is about human beings right? What we’ve seen is we have these very harsh measures for relatively low-level offenses and they really didn’t have impact on the violent crime that we have. And the truth is our Clark County Detention Center is bursting at the seams and so is ever major jail across the United States.”

Do you realize how strange that sounds coming from a police officer?

“We are much better served as a community to focus in on the things that are driving those violent behaviors and start to do something about them and also provide some services. They are already out there right? The services are out there whether it’s housing, or whether it’s addiction, or whether it’s jobs and really as law enforcement leaders to bring folks together to provide that wrap around ability”

The next Nevada legislative session is just about a year away. You have to start figuring out what issues Metro is going to lobby for. Is more, and better, mental health in Nevada going to be one of those issues?

“There are a number of really exceptional things that I think are on the horizon for Metro. Particularly in this area of alternatives to incarceration.”

“And yes, you are right, it is sort of breaking new ground within law enforcement and it is certainly breaking new ground here in Southern Nevada.”

Mental health care is costly. So much so, that in the early 1990s, former Gov. Bob Miller, a Democrat, cut the state’s mental health budge to historic lows. Though some funding been restored, it’s never really caught up. And mental health always seems the first thing state lawmakers want to cut. Why do you think pushing now for better mental health care has a chance of success?

“I think for the first time police are really looking at it in a radically different way. And we actually have a role in the robust discussion of mental health and the services that are provided to the people who are mentally ill. So, I think you’re starting to see us take the first baby steps wading into that conversation and that discussion.”

Does it bother you that law enforcement has to be a leader for change on this issue?

“I think the fundamental change is that there is an understanding by police leaders all across this country and certainly with Sheriff Lombardo and myself here at Metro that we have a role. We deal with the failures of every single system. Those are our customers often times”

It’s now been 20 months since the late March 2014 action by the Bureau of Land Management that led to a standoff between federal authorities and Nevada Cliven Bundy. In short, Bundy grazed his cattle on federal land, but he didn’t pay a required fee. A federal judge said he owed some $1 million in fees and penalties. The BLM came to take his cattle to sell at auction to pay for those fees. In turn, men and women with guns showed up to stop them. There’s video of people pointing guns at BLM. Metro helped cool tensions and it dissipated. And no one has been arrested.

Many say no one will be arrested because this was a group of white men with guns. But what if they had been men and women of color?

“I want to address this issue of race associated with that and I assure you that race has absolutely nothing to do with this particular issue. I was on the ground along with Sheriff Lombardo in this particular incident. It was probably the single most dangerous situation I had been involved in my 25 years of law enforcement.”

“Our federal partners are robustly investigating this through the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office. We are also anxiously awaiting the results of their investigation.”   

Even before the Bundy Ranch standoff, one of your officers, Detective Bobby Kinch, expressed his views on Facebook. One read: “Let’s get this over. Race war. Civil revolution. Bring it. I’m about as fed up as a man - American, Christian, white, heterosexual can get.” Metro appeared reluctant to come down hard on him because of his right to free speech. But now Metro has a new social media policy. Tell us what it says.

“Our policy did not match what many felt needed to be done about that. So what did was we worked with a number of people on the sheriff’s multi-cultural council, including members of the ACLU, to construct a policy that would allow us to effectively limit the members of our organization as they’re representing the organization in what it is they say and do.”

“We felt that it was imperative for us to maintain the public trust and construct a policy that ensured that not only as an individual but as a member of this organization as a whole that you represent the values of this organization in your social media posts.”

It’s been more than a year since the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the resulting upheaval and riots. That incident and the Black Lives Matter movement led to a push for more statistics. Specifically, annual reports of officer-involved shootings to the FBI. Not all departments, however, report those shootings. Does Metro report all police shootings to the FBI?

“Every last one of them.”

“I think this is one of the areas that Metro has made some enormous strides and I would tell you that many of my partners across the United States look at what we do and how we do it and I think they are often times amazed”

“If they’re not reporting their officer-involved shootings they’re making a huge mistake in having their communities understand exactly what occurs with each and every one of those.”

Caller Ryan asked about body cameras:

“As it sits now we just finished a very, very comprehensive study with the NIJ (National Institute of Justice) that will look at the deployment of those 200 body cams that we have currently. We also in this fiscal year are going to be purchasing about 538 body cameras and we also received the matching grant funding from the government for an additional 538 body cameras. So not only are we going to have the vast majority of patrol division outfitted fairly quickly, our target is next July, but also a number of our specialized units like traffic and SWAT and K9 and a number of other places outside the mainstream patrol world that will be utilizing those body cameras.”

“When I play those body cam videos, there is no question about what occurred. It doesn’t take a whole lot of convincing or it doesn’t take a lot of presentation, I just play it and people can see for themselves. They can hear it. They can see it.”

 A few weeks ago, Metro graduated a new class of recruits. How has training changed for those recruits?

“We take a period of time between the academy and when they enter the in the field training and we do a number of things like Adopt a Cop. And Adopt a Cop is for those officers to go out to those area commands that they’re going to be assigned to and work within a number of places. It could be schools. It could be community centers. It could be juvenile justice.”

“They go out and they develop relationships where they’re not in uniform. They’re in civilian clothes. They spend the first couple of days getting to know people and letting people get to know them as a volunteer. And then, the third day they show up in a uniform and people’s very perception of one another is changed.” 

Guests

Kevin McMahill, undersheriff, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department

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KNPR's State of Nevada
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KNPR's State of Nevada