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Are Police To Blame For Rising Crime In Las Vegas?

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Associated Press

The FBI a week ago said if anyone is to blame for Las Vegas' increased crime rate, it's police, themselves.

Huh?

FBI Director James Comey had said police are afraid to get caught doing something wrong on video. So, in turn, they are neglecting areas of high crime or minority neighborhoods.

Earlier this week, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo held a press conference to talk about the county’s crime numbers and disputed that allegation. He said Metro simply doesn't have enough police officers.

Meanwhile, Metro’s body camera policy has come under question. Does the department only release videos when it make them look good?

And it was almost two years ago that Metro Officers Alyn Beck and Igor Soldo were ambushed and executed in a pizza restaurant on Nellis Boulevard. Metro officers swarmed the area in response. Could they have done things differently? The Justice Department had some suggestions.

Metro Undersheriff Kevin McMahill joined KNPR's State of Nevada to talk about those and other issues facing Metro.

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INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS:

What is the idea of de-policing?

The concept of de-policing is the idea that police are choosing to look the other way and to do nothing.

Many are attributing it to what they call the ‘Ferguson Effect,’ the intense scrutiny of police officers across this nation and what some is the targeting of police officers across this nation. Cops that are out there on patrol or detectives doing their work are just choosing not work.

Is it happening?

It would be irresponsible as a police leader to not take a look at that particular issue because I’ll tell you I also feel at times under attack.

One way you measure that is through statistics. You know the person stops, the car stops, the arrests those sorts of things and there is absolutely no doubt that we are not seeing de-policing here in Las Vegas. But I have to take that a bit further, and I’ll be candid with you in this sense, I take that as a real personal affront about the men and women that wear the uniform at the Metropolitan Police Department and the detectives and the civilians that work for our organization.

I would also be lying to you if I told you there are some people that may choose to de-police but as an organization as whole, absolutely we are not seeing de-policing.

Caller Mike wanted to know why there was a lack of accountability when it comes to body cameras and why the public could only see what Metro released.

There’s a lot of reasons for that. However, you do have the capability to put in a request to see any particular body cam that you would like. There is a process that allows you do to that.

But there are a couple of factors that you have to understand that goes into that particular issue. Number one is the sheer volume. There is a tremendous amount of video. Just the ability to go in there and research what you’re looking for… would literally take months and months and months.

I know there’s been some criticism as that continues to grow in our profession as a whole. I try each and every time that if there is a video present to release the video to the public. I believe you have the right to see that video. I think our officers understand that the public needs to see it and I mean good, bad and ugly about all of those situations.

One of the challenges I have in releasing all of that body-worn camera video is when we have an instance that is going to require a future seated jury to make a decision about the conduct of either the subject that was charged or the officers in question. It would be irresponsibly of me to release that video, if in fact, we expect a particular prosecution to ensue.

Caller James wanted to know why the FBI would accuse Metro of de-policing and whether it was politically motivated?

I can tell you that the Sheriff had a private conversation with Director Comey, because we were a little bit surprised to see the commentary that came out and the way it was reported was that the director was indicating that the reason that there were 60 murders was that there was de-policing was going on.

Some of the reporting was wrong. He wasn’t necessarily attributing that to Las Vegas. The one thing he does not know… is what exactly the situation is behind the 70 murders that we have.

I’ve already told you that we’ve seen a substantial uptick in gang members particularly gang members from California that have been committing crimes here. And certainly the level of violence, the number of rounds that are being fired is absolutely concerning to us.

But a number of those are domestic violence homicides. A number of those arise from simple disputes that are out on the streets.

Caller Bobby wants to know why the gang unit was disbanded:

We decentralized the gang enforcement aspect of our gang crimes bureau. That means that the detectives that were specifically responsible for going out and conducting street level enforcement. Those detectives still exist. They have been decentralized back out to the area commands. So those area commanders can deal with the particular problems they have in their area.

In 2006, we had 153 murders. That is the highest number of murders we’ve ever had in our jurisdiction. You know what we had in 2006? A centralized gang unit. The reality is crime is cyclical. Things have changed. We remain understaffed.

Are officers starting to believe in decentralization?

Let’s just look at the gang unit, which is what we’re talking about, going back to a centralized system. I had 14 detectives that were working in that. That was two squads. Two squads cannot cover eight area commands with seven day a week coverage and 24 hour coverage. It’s impossible.

We haven’t got it right – completely. I completely admit that. Much of what we have done we were not as effective as we can be about it. But on a regular basis, not only do I talk to those decentralized individuals and ask them, ‘do we need to go back?’ And the answer from some of them is, quite frankly, ‘yes’…  You talk to some of those patrol officers, ‘are you having better interaction with those detectives?’ and the answer often times is ‘yes.’ We continue to evaluate what our effectiveness is and it is working in some places in the organization better than others. 

Guests

Kevin McMahill, undersheriff, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police 

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