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Crime, drugs, homelessness: LVMPD sheriff answers our questions and yours

Sheriff Kevin McMahill
Sheriff Kevin McMahill

When fewer and fewer people want to be cops — the Las Vegas police saw applications fall off by 70% — how do you put a dent in crime?

And not just a dent, Sheriff Kevin McMahill has said he wants to see overall crime drop 10% by the end of this year.

How do you do it? Do you adopt a broken-window theory of policing, where you go after even minor infractions to let criminals know they won’t be tolerated? Is it technology? Or is it data-driven?

The sheriff sat down with State of Nevada host Joe Schoenmann to answer our questions and yours.

On treatment of minority communities

It starts at the top right, and starts at the very beginning. So we have to train that in the police academy. But we also train that in field training, and then really the philosophy of the organization, that starts with me. You might have heard recently that when I talk about community policing strategies and policing within communities of color, in particular, one of the challenges that we have is acknowledging some of the previous harm that has occurred, but also, you know, longstanding feelings about the relationship between police and the community that we serve. And so, you know, the basic core fundamental philosophy of my community policing strategy is simply to inject humanity into all it is that we do.

On needing 300 more officers

We're gonna get the cops, I'm convinced of that. A lot of that is exactly, ‘How it is that our officers feel?’ They're our single best recruiter, right? And so as we continue to take care of them, we'll continue to have a larger impact on those numbers. As I've mentioned to you previously, the area where I'm most challenged is in my dispatch center, where I'm only about 50% dispatch, which is why when people are calling 311, sometimes there's over an hour wait.

On how they have a high homicide solve rate

Whoever committed a homicide or whoever committed a robbery, the people that are out there on those streets actually know who did it. So it's really a big game for us to figure out how to put together a solvable case that you can prosecute. And so making those relationships within the community so that those individuals within the community that know who are the bad people that are out there preying on those communities, we have communication with them, so they can help point us in the right direction is critical, but also, things like our Civic Center, our Crime Gun Intelligence Center, we're taking these crime guns that had been used in shootings, and linking them to shooting locations all across the city. And we're able to identify suspects and it's new. It's been going on for a couple of years, but it's a new technology that we use with the partnership with the ATF and it's absolutely solving gun crimes at rates that we've never solved before.

On DACA recipients becoming officers

I believe it's the North Las Vegas Police Department [who] actually dropped the bill to try to allow for those DREAMers and DACA [recipients] to be. I believe I'm going to support that. Yes. You know, I'd like to see the language of it. I'd like to see ... they're serving already in the United States military, they serve in the state of California next to us, the state of Utah next to us. I don't really see why we wouldn't be able to have them as an employee.

On the families of suspects

One of the things that comes out of our FIT team, our Force Investigation Team, routinely meets with the family. After they've done the initial, we'd like to meet with them before we go out and place the 72 hour briefing out into the media. So if there's anything that they or their family members want to see before we release it, so that they're not re-traumatized. Again, oftentimes, we'll do that with the victim's families, attorney as well, where they want to come in and view certain things. And so we try to do that as best we can. Taking care of that long term piece of the trauma that's associated with that. I don't think we've done a very good job of that. And, there are those that will argue that that's not our responsibility, but I just think that there's some conversation around that. We've had certain family members over the years that have written apology letters to our police officers for having to take their loved one's life. But on the other side, we've had our challenges.

On homelessness and drug addiction

I think the last recorded census on the homeless said there were 9,000 homeless in Southern Nevada. Those numbers have to be far higher than that; just anecdotally, driving around on the street, you can tell that it's higher than that. But I don't think that's an unsolvable problem. Nor do I believe that addiction is unsolvable. As we talk today, fentanyl is the biggest challenge that we have. … But we've had this before, we used to have meth labs, where we had 600 meth labs in Southern Nevada. And now I can't remember the last time we had one, right? So there are ways to do that, both legislatively, but also from a treatment perspective. We just need to have some of those facilities, because I'll tell you this. Here's the truth. Everybody that I know who has been addicted … not one of them chooses that life. People like to be really harsh and critical about these things. But it's called addiction for a reason. And once you take a certain drug, and you can't stop it, or you have that addictive personality, it becomes one of those things that just drives you every single day. … It's a heartbreaking thing to watch out there on the streets day in and day out, at least it is for me.

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.
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