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'Cop Culture' At Metro Police Under Scrutiny After Recent Shootings

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AP Photo/John Locher

Vegas Metropolitan Police Officers prepare to escort a truck carrying the casket of fellow officer Igor Soldo at Canyon Ridge Christian Church Thursday, June 12, 2014 in Las Vegas.

In one day earlier this week, Las Vegas police shot and killed two people.

In both cases, spokespeople say, the officers feared for their lives.

But the frequency of the shootings brings to memory the days when Metro’s officer-involved shootings were so prevalent, it drew the attention of the federal Justice Department.

Meanwhile, Las Vegas police have been dealing with a rash of shootings – a double and triple murder within the last few months, to name a few. 

Those shootings bring back memories, too – of gangland drug killings from 15 to 20 years ago.

Is a gang war breaking out on the streets?

Metro Undersheriff Kevin McMahill talks with KNPR's State of Nevada about how police are dealing with the rash of shootings.

Is the drop in officer-involved shootings just a break and are the numbers going back up?

"We still have reductions. And I will tell you, one of the most critical pieces of each and every officer-involved shooting, as you well know, not only do we look at it from a criminal perspective, but we look at it from an administrative, supervisory, policy, procedure, tactic and training perspective. The simple question to answer for ourselves as well as the community is not just whether or not a shooting is legal but whether it's necessary. If there was anything else that we could have potentially done to ensure that we did not have to pull that trigger. We have not taken our foot off the gas on that and nor will we take our foot off the gas on that."

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What can you say about Metro's anti-terrorism efforts?

"We have the Southern Nevada Counter-Terrorism Center and not only do we have the fusion center, which is what we commonly call it, but we have that partnership with 18 or 19 different federal agencies that are resident with our fusion center. This last year, I can tell you, is as robust and as fluid as it has ever been."

What are the kinds of things are people reporting under the suspicious activity reporting or SAR?

"I think it's important for you to know a big push of what it is we teach is also not just for the police officers and the first responders to pay attention to it, but it's the mailman, it's a back of the house people within the casino, it's the bellman, it's the valet. It's the people that when they see something they just don't feel looks right, we ask them to report it."

How is the department preparing for New Year's Eve celebrations?

"Let's be honest, our world has changed again with the homeland security issues that we've seen... Terrorism is always focused in on the opportunity to take and create a lot of loss of life. We know that Las Vegas Blvd. has well over 300,000 people and so we have to go in an readjust what it is that we do to make sure and ensure that we're going to have another safe event and we will."

"One of the things that we've done in the past is we had a different type of approach where you've been able to bring bags and strollers and vendors were allowed to set up there and you live music and a number of other things that were occurring. So what we're working diligently with the Strip properties as well as downtown and some off site locations is to ask people not to take those types of things out."

What is behind the rash of recent shootings?

"Yes, I see a resurgence of gang activity. I see a resurgence of what we believe to be California gangs coming into Las Vegas, having some disputes particularly with those that are involved in the drug trade and it seems to be some disputes between Hispanic gang members and black gang members at this point. We're working diligently on that and we're going to do the best that we can to stem the tide."

What do you say to people who have the idea that this type of violence doesn't matter to them because they don't live in neighborhoods where there is gang activity?

"West Las Vegas still suffers from this stigmatism that's been this terrible place. For two years, it was off our crime hot spot. It wasn't even a top location in our valley. We had made such significant progress there. It's back. We've got some issues. We've got to go in there and deal with it. We radically changed, which we've talked about before, how we police that predominately African-American and Hispanic community." 

How can you improve diversity in the department?

"We're working really hard on that right now. I can tell you... I had to go back and really put a focus and ask the members of the Sheriff's Multicultural Council to step forward and find ways to reach out to people of every race, every walk of life to find a way to get more participation." 

 

 

Guests

Kevin McMahill, Undersheriff, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police 

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KNPR's State of Nevada