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Police reform in Southern Nevada: What needs to be done?

Protesters gather around the Federal Court House in Downtown Las Vegas
Christopher Alvarez
Protesters gather around the Federal Court House in Downtown Las Vegas

The video of the beating death of Tyre Nichols at the hands of five police officers will likely stand as one of the country’s most horrific, recorded examples of police abuse-of-force.

And it happens or has happened almost everywhere, including Las Vegas.

In 2017, 40-year-old Tashi Brown died after being tased seven times, hit, then put in a chokehold after he approached Officer Ken Lopera on the Las Vegas Strip, saying he was being chased, then ran away.

Lopera was fired. And after a grand jury refused to indict him for manslaughter, the police department paid a then-record $2.2 million dollars to Brown’s family.

People don’t forget that.

After the release of the Memphis video, about 50 protesters Saturday met on Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas. Police let them be for the most part, though a police helicopter far overhead passed by occasionally.

The message was clear: they don’t feel police are here to protect and serve.

How people see police depends largely on past interactions. Police can view the public through the same lens, basing treatment on past experience, or what they learn from other cops. That is: A department’s culture. But can you change the culture of a department?

Can cop culture be changed? And if so, what type of work is required?

Some things to note for this program:

One of the speakers at Saturday’s protest was asked to join us, but declined and gave this statement:

“We do not see it as appropriate to discuss black liberation with any member of the police department. This can give a false framework to any conversation—that both sides have equal points to share. What we are seeing is a nationwide campaign of terror against Black communities by militarized police departments. Basic human rights are not up for debate and we do not want to mislead the public by framing it as such”.

KNPR producers also reached out to African-American community members and experts, but some were not able to join and others did not respond.

Guests: Andrew Walsh, undersheriff, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department; Candace McCoy, professor of criminal justice, John Jay College, City University of New York; Neil Gross, sociologist, Colby College in Maine, Author of Walk the Walk: How Three Police Chiefs Defied the Odds And Changed Cop Culture

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.
Christopher Alvarez is a news producer and podcast audio editor at Nevada Public Radio for the State of Nevada program, and has been with them for over a year.