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Sunday, May 26, 2024 | Back issues
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DOJ Tries to Curb Vegas Police Shootiings

LAS VEGAS (CN) - A federal study of police-involved shootings in Las Vegas blamed a lack of training and accountability, as well as "cumbersome" policies and poor communication.

The Justice Department study came Thursday after Las Vegas Metropolitan Police fatally shot a record 12 civilians last year.

A 158-page report from the DOJ's Office of Community Oriented Police Officers (COPS Office) outlined 75 findings and recommendations for the agency regarding officer-involved shootings and other issues of force.

The report describes four goals: to "reduce the number of officer-involved shootings, reduce the number of persons killed, change the culture of the LVMPD as it relates to deadly force, and enhance officer safety."

"One of the most important issues facing law enforcement is the public perception of the legitimate use of force," COPS Office Director Bernard Melekian said in a statement. "And far too often, the public perception of police use of force is different from those who are in law enforcement. We've now developed a tool to help assist agencies address community concerns, effectively revamp policies and practices, and enhance both community engagement and community support."

The police department volunteered to undergo the review, which included interviews over an eighth-month period and input from 95 "area stakeholders," including community members, officers, prosecutors, community groups and police union officials.

Sheriff Doug Gillespie vowed to implement the suggestions.

"We will not be judged today based on this report," Gillespie told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "We will be judged based on how we follow through on the recommendations in the months to come."

The report - titled "Collaborative Reform Process: A Review of Officer-Involved Shootings in the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department" - examined issues ranging from an apparent lack of "fair and impartial policing training" to reforming a "police-friendly" Use of Force Review Board.

Justice Department officials said they initiated the study after the Las Vegas Review-Journal published a December 2011 five-part examination into 20 years of police-involved shootings. "The newspaper reported that, although a number of these shootings were highly controversial and had been avoidable, LVMPD's internal accountability systems and the Clark County Coroner's inquest had ruled them to be justified," according to the report.

These OIS cases often involved shootings in which the subject was unarmed or options other than deadly force could have been used.

"As expected, the LVRJ investigative series raised concern about LVMPD's lack of police accountability both to the department's review bodies and to community stakeholders," the report states.

The director of the COPS Office contacted Gillespie and offered assistance through its Critical Response Technical Assistance grant to reduce officer-involved shootings. Gillespie then sent a team to Washington, D.C., and the parties discussed reforms already in play by the department "to address the issue and the areas in which technical assistance would be beneficial."

At the same time, the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada filed a petition with the DOJ's Civil Rights Division on behalf of the Las Vegas chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The NAACP requested that the agency investigate and reform the LVMPD, which it said had "engaged in a pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officers ... that deprives persons of rights, privileges or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States."

The report points out that a new program, announced in July by Gillespie, set out to change the policy for deploying and using assault rifles after the December 2011 shooting death of Stanley Gibson.

The unarmed, disabled military veteran was shot and killed behind the wheel of his car. His family filed a $20 million federal lawsuit in May.

According to the Review-Journal, officers in the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department shot and killed a dozen people last year and shot and injured another 25 people. Overall, the paper reported that 142 people have been killed by police in the Las Vegas area since 1990.

Of the 10 shootings involving unarmed people, seven were black, according to the DOJ study.

The federal agency said it will follow up with the department in six months.

Major Report Findings and Recommendations

"Officer initiated stops are more likely to result in a shooting of an unarmed suspect than any other type of contact."

"The new Use of Force Policy is comprehensive; however, the format is cumbersome and not structured in a clear and concise manner that allows officers to quickly apply guidance in the field."

"The LVMPD needs to better manage multiple officer situations. Tactical errors and fatalities are more prevalent when multiple officers are on the scene"

"Tactical errors and fatalities are more prevalent when multiple officers are on the scene."

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