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Metro Assistant Sheriff Says Unrest Should Prompt Better Training

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Associated Press

Las Vegas Metro Police observe a Black Lives Matter rally on the Las Vegas Strip this sumer.

The death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police sparked violent protests this spring and summer on the streets of cities nationwide, including Las Vegas. It was something Greg McCurdy had seen before.

The retired Metro assistant sheriff grew up in mostly-Black West Las Vegas and served there as a police officer during riots in April 1992 that left one person dead and caused more than $11 million in property damage in current dollars. 

“We had some looting and we had some rioting,” McCurdy told State of Nevada, but the moment also exposed legitimate frustration with police and the courts. The unrest was sparked by the acquittal of four white Los Angeles police officers in the beating of Black motorist Rodney King.

“That has helped to lead to more accountability of police and certainly helped to lead to more transparency,” said McCurdy, who will be part of a Mob Museum discussion on Tuesday about race and policing.

Another thing that has changed in the wake of the 1992 riots is the diversity of the department. McCurdy said having officers of color on the force makes a difference in a lot of ways.

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“It made a difference because there was some understanding of the person being in the community, understanding of the community, not an over-reaction and I’ll be candid – there wasn’t a fear factor. I didn’t fear people in the community,” he said. 

He said it is difficult to bring people from other places in to police communities they're not familiar with because each community has its own culture. 

“We made a difference in the presence of other officers in how they may have otherwise treated people,” he said.

McCurdy said he's been stopped by officers and been treated poorly until they found out he was also a police officer. 

A diverse force means the voices of people of color are involved in discussions about policy, procedures, and in daily briefings. 

“If everyone would just appreciate everyone’s differences and everyone bring the truth and facts and have candid talks, I think we’ll continue to grow as a profession in law enforcement,” McCurdy said.

Even though he's retired, McCurdy cares deeply for law enforcement officers and wants them to come home to their families every night. He also wants officers to know that most people support them and their efforts.

“I think when you talk to most people, most people really appreciate the police and want the police and know that police stand between chaos and no chaos,” he said.

Since the riots and a Department of Justice overall of Metro Police in 2012, a lot has changed in the department. 

“I know Metro has done a remarkable job in working to institute change from the training, the reality-based training," McCurdy said, "The vision, the goals, the objectives, communicating the values, all those things are important so it puts everyone on the same page.”

He said the change in department policy to recognize the sanctity of life is vital, but another change in recent years that he feels is also important is the focus on community engagement.

The phrase 'partners with the community' is so simple yet so important, McCurdy said.

“We are a big part of the community. We are not apart from the community,” he said.

Police officers live in the community, their children go to the schools, their families participate in the community. They are citizens who just work in the police department, the former assistant sheriff said.

McCurdy said the job is not as dangerous as some officers would have you believe and the majority of officers' time is not spent in dangerous situations.

“The reality of it is most of the time the job is not dangerous," he said, "It’s an opportunity to really get to know people in neighborhoods, to really get to know shop owners, to really get to know our church leaders.”

He said over the last 20 years Metro has really emphasized community engagement and breaking down barriers. 

“It has come a long way yet there is always room for improvement,” McCurdy said.

Those areas that need improvement are not just in the police force but in the justice system altogether from the District Attorney's office to the courts, he said. 

For instance, the way officer-involved shootings are investigated. McCurdy said that officers don't have to be there, but he believes they should be part of the process after they take a person's life.

He is also disappointed that two Black executive officers in the department have recently retired. 

“What you miss by not having that at that table is the sensitivities of what’s going on in the community especially right now when there is a racial divide in our country,” he said.

He said the response to the Black Lives Matter movement shows a lack of understanding. McCurdy does not like it when the community separates along racial lines, "but it is the feelings of some people that we are undervalued as a race and that’s where it comes from. It doesn’t come in the absence or in place of any other race or police or anyone else.”

The former assistant sheriff called the current situation "an unhealthy environment" and a "powder keg."

“It is scary because of the things that are said at the highest levels of government,” he noted.

While people pushing for reform can bring up the names of the men and women who have died at the hands of the police, McCurdy said, there are police officers who have been shot for no reason.

“These are people who are willing to take the oath, willing to go out and try to keep chaos from occurring in communities," he said, "We have to work hard as a country. We have to continue to work hard as a community to bring about some calm, to bring about some sensibilities about us, to look at how can we work collectively together to make things better.”

He said it is not a time to be hateful but a time to build bridges over the gaps that divide us.

A current top Metro official said police work can move forward from this year through improved training. 

Assistant Sheriff Chris Darcy said that more reality-based training can provide officers the tools to avoid violence and approach policing with more sensitivity.

“A lot of places now are starting to incorporate policies of de-escalation, but unless you really define what it is — which we’ve now done in our policy — and you actually train scenarios where officers de-escalate and actually use other alternatives besides deadly force, you’re not going to be as adept at it,” Darcy said. “If you don’t train it, it’s not going to happen.”

Darcy said concerns over police interactions with people of color demonstrate the need for the proposed $25 million Reality Based Training Center, being funded with money raised by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Foundation.

It would provide first responders from Nevada and around the West an opportunity for state-of-the-art classroom and tactical training.

“This training center is going to enable us to bring everybody in from all the different law enforcement agencies in the valley and other first responders and be able to actually train on things like de-escalation,” he said.

Metro Police have training on implicit bias, but Darcy said sitting in a classroom doesn't help. He said police need to train in scenarios that are as close to real-life as possible.

“You can have a three-hour class on race and perception or bias and all that but until you actually do it and go through a scenario that’s when you really learn. We learn by doing more than someone just talking to us,” he said.

Darcy has also been with the force for decades. He started at Metro around the time of the 1992 riots.

He said the force has changed a lot since then, especially after the DOJ review of the department.

“We went through and took a really hard look at ourselves and came back with 70 recommendations on policies, tactics, oversight and community engagement. Is it uncomfortable? Sure, but you have to do those sorts of things to make the change,” he said.

Those changes are continuing, and now, Darcy believes it is time to listen to the community again.

“Now, we’re getting feedback from the community and we need to listen to what they say, and we need to make the appropriate changes, because if we do, at the end of the process, we’re all going to be successful and happier and a better community for it,” he said.

Darcy said most police officers join the department because they want to help people; however, if that's not why they're there or if they're unwilling to change their behaviors after being disciplined - they need to go.

He also strongly agreed with McCurdy on the idea that police are the community they serve.

“The people are the police and the police are the people, we’re one. So, if we’re not viewed as being successful by the community, we need to change,” he said.

Rendering of the Reality Based Training Center being built in North Las Vegas

Guests

Greg McCurdy, retired Metro assistant sheriff; Chris Darcy, assistant sheriff, Las Vegas Metro Police

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