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There's a new sheriff in town. LVMPD's leader on traffic, crime and more

 Sheriff Kevin McMahill
Sheriff Kevin McMahill

A few months ago, Clark County elected Kevin McMahill as sheriff of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. He replaces Joe Lombardo, who is now governor.

Many listeners know McMahill as the former undersheriff who appeared on this program several times over the years with State of Nevada host Joe Schoenmann.

Now, instead of second-in-command, he’s the top dog.

And he’s facing issues: the department is reportedly about 300 officers short. Police recruitment is an issue nationwide, made worse by the pandemic and the searing image of George Floyd’s death —and now Tyre Nichols’ death— at the hands of police. The public that Metro now serves is also increasingly diverse.

There’s so much more: there’s a bill in the legislature to increase penalties for peddlers of the opioid fentanyl; traffic is a top issue for many residents; the jail as a mental health facility is an ongoing problem. And what about mental health counseling for officers?


On crime rates at the start of 2023

I gotta tell you, that the first month was very eye-opening to me, really, on the level of violence that we see out there in the community. I had 11 homicides in the very first 11 days of being the sheriff. And I kept wondering if, man, when is this going to stop? We've been able to put the lid on it. We've solved all of those homicides, as well. We've slowed down, but the first start of the year was a very, very violent start to the year and the vast majority of those homicides also occurred within our downtown area command. And so just in the last month or so we've had some enforcement efforts there that have taken 36 guns off the street from individuals that were out there looking to cause harm to others.

On staff shortages within the department

I have a significant staffing crisis … A month ago, we … had about 300 budgeted unfilled positions. And what I would say to you about that is, think about what that means when you talk about 300 positions. That's the equivalent of two of my area commands that I don't have fully staffed. And then my dispatch center is also only about 50% staffed. It's really a crisis where people have been trying to call 3-1-1 and they have to wait sometimes two hours to get that response. And that's just not acceptable.

On traffic fatalities in Southern Nevada

First off, officers in cars do car stops, there's no doubt about that. The challenge that we have is that we're a very large city. I think personally also that by taking and making a number of our traffic charges, civil fines instead of criminal penalties, I think we sort of walked backwards on that. And that didn't necessarily help, what I would tell you is that we lose more people on our roadways every year to traffic fatalities than we do to cases of homicide. But the one thing that has always been clear, and I've said this before on your show is I don't care how you lose a loved one, whether it's through a traffic fatality, or through an act of homicide, you still feel the same pain and the same loss.

I think as a community, we really have to begin to try to understand what it is that we can do far more effectively than what we are already doing. And I think there's a lot of technology out there that can help us. … I'm in favor of things like red light cameras, and as we discussed previously, you know, some monitoring of cameras and those kinds of things around schools and those areas where we need to have reduced speed because kids are present.

You could give me 1,000 more cops to focus solely on traffic, we would still have a lot of the challenges that we have, because we also have a court system that routinely dismisses all of the cases after we would write a citation and drop them down to a parking citation. … Just over a year ago, the RJ did an expose where there were, I think, 6,000 people that were cited for going over 100 miles an hour. And there was zero accountability within the court system for a single one of those people.

On homelessness in Clark County

The Clark County Detention Center is the largest mental health treatment center in the state of Nevada, the largest homeless shelter in the state of Nevada and largest addiction treatment center in the state of Nevada. And at the same time, we know that incarceration fixes none of those three things. And so I've been working with a number of other elected officials in the city and in the county and trying to figure out how it is that we collectively can move forward with dealing with some of the challenges around those three areas. There's a lot of people that talk about the homelessness. And we have shelter, we don't have enough community care centers, we don't have enough of those things to actually take care of some of these so-called unsolvable problems. … It's not a crime to be mentally ill, it's not a crime to be homeless. And so we've got to find better ways as a community as a state as a city to work far more effectively on these problems.

On the 82nd Session of the Nevada Legislature

There's a number of things that we're looking at, and we're monitoring, I have a full-time individual up there as well. … We don't make law. And you know, I don't spend a lot of time and effort and energy on things that I don't have any control over. When laws are passed, I may or may not like them; I'm going to weigh in on a lot of those bills as they come across, where I think they're detrimental to the safety of our community. And I will continue to do that as we move forward. Just one example of this is the decriminalization of jaywalking. We saw a corresponding significant increase in the number of people dying on our roadways, because we're not allowed to enforce jaywalking charges. I'm not saying that people never necessarily need to go to jail. But people are dying because of decisions that we made in the legislative process.

On criminal justice reform

If we're going to talk about police reform, we're going to talk about criminal justice reform, we need to have reform that matters and makes sense rather than just have this sweeping approach to it. You know, there's a number of things in the criminal justice system that we need to continue to look at to reform. As we sit here today, there's 350 people sitting in the Clark County Detention Center, my jail, awaiting charges, to be tried for the charge of murder. The oldest case is over 7 years old still. … That's the kind of thing we need to be talking about criminal justice reform. You know, there's this little thing called the Sixth Amendment, the right to a speedy trial. … We need to do a number of things to really address the challenges within the system. But our criminal justice reform, for the most part, focuses it on police reform, not criminal justice reform.

On his career in the department

If you keep approaching the same challenges the same way, you're always gonna get the same result, right? Everybody knows that. When I started arresting the children of people that I had arrested, in the same places for doing the same things, I realized that, man, what a waste of my entire career and my professional life to not have really made the difference that I wanted to make … that we all get into the business to actually make. And so that was really a big catalyst for me. But we were also losing people at a rate to homicide that we had never seen before. And I just decided I wanted to do something different. And I wanted to go back in and make policing as great as I think it can be, which is a big part of why I ran for sheriff. Look, we got a long way to go, we got a lot more effort to put into this. You know, our world is changing again because of the actions of some police officers across this country. And I'm going to help us lead it so that people look at Metro and realize there is a proper way to do policing.

What the callers wanted to know

Missing man: Collin Best

Jennifer Best, as well as several of her family members and friends, called and wrote in to ask about the missing persons case of Best’s son, Collin Best. The 26-year-old has been missing for 12 days.

“He's mentally ill and he's autistic; he's not able to find his way home, he's not able to ask for help,” a family friend told the sheriff. “About a week ago, I believe maybe a little bit more, he was actually arrested by Metro. And the detention facility failed to somehow recognize that there was an actual … missing persons report for this individual. They did not have him medically evaluated, even though you can tell by the mugshot, just by looking at him that he needed to be evaluated. And he was released within about an eight-hour period. And now we can't find him at all.”

She asked how that could happen.

“A lot of times when we have these … we do locate an individual, they have the choice to say, ‘No, I don't want to go back,’ even though we know that they're mentally ill. The law doesn't really allow for us to do anything when they are an adult. I don't like it any more than you do,” McMahill said. “I wasn't aware that [the missing persons unit] was closed on the weekend. That's something we'll have to look at. But I do know that they get called out for many different instances where an individual is missing.”

If you have seen Collin Best or may know about his whereabouts, please contact his family with the information below:

 Collin Best
Courtesy, Best family
Collin Best

On safe gun storage and protection orders

Elizabeth from Las Vegas wanted to know what the department’s plan was for safe storage of firearms, as well as high-risk protection orders.

The sheriff responded: The safe storage of weapons is a particularly important one for us. Because the vast majority of the weapons that are used in crime are stolen during burglaries, home burglaries. So if we actually had folks that had a safe and they had their guns in the safe, then we wouldn't be having half the problems that we have. And by the way, those guns are oftentimes handed from one person to the next to the next to the next.

These extreme risk protection orders … there's been some information that was just recently provided to me as well that here in Nevada, that we don't have the capability to actually enforce that if somebody from California came here and had an extreme risk protection order … Nevada doesn't allow us to do that. I think that's something that we have to really take a look at. I haven't dived down yet deeply into all of that. I have some people working on all of that. But I think in those particular cases, I'm in favor of that and educating the community about that.

On mishandled police reports and body camera footage

Joseph from Las Vegas asked if there is a consequence for falsification of police records, as well as not properly using body cameras.

Here’s how the sheriff responded: At Metro, we actually consider the falsification of a report to be truthfulness. And so you can be terminated for truthfulness.

In regards to the body-worn camera, there's sort of a multiple step piece of that with turning on the camera, when you're supposed to turn it on. Or, as importantly, if you've turned it off when you're not supposed to turn it off. And so it's prescribed within our policy as to what the punishment for those types of things are. But I'll tell you, in certain circumstances, if you knowingly turn your body camera off, and you were in the middle of, say, a use of force incident, we would treat that differently than if you just simply forgot to turn it on. One of the things that we've been working with the technology on though, however, is that as you exit your police car, your body camera automatically turns on. So we've had a number of circumstances where an individual officer will have to bail out of the car very quickly because of whatever the situation is. And they forget to turn the body camera on. So it'd be nice if when you exit, the default is okay, you've exited now, you're just going to lunch, so you have to turn the camera off. It'd be really nice for us if the camera automatically turns on so we're always capturing what it is that occurs.

Guest: Kevin McMahill, sheriff, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department

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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.
Kristen DeSilva (she/her) is the online editor for Nevada Public Radio. She oversees and writes State of Nevada’s online and social media content.
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