The use of deadly force against a citizen is the most serious act a police officer can take. It demands careful, impartial review and the highest professional standards of accountability. In November 2011, the Las Vegas Review Journal (LVRJ) published a five-part investigative series titled “Deadly Force: When Las Vegas Police Shoot, and Kill.” The LVRJ series, using data provided by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD), reviewed officer-involved shootings (OIS) over the past 20 years. The LVRJ reported that although a number of these shootings were highly controversial and could have been avoided, LVMPD’s internal accountability systems and the Clark County Coroner’s Inquests had ruled that they were justified and held officers minimally accountable. 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.
In January 2012, in response to the LVRJ’s investigative series, the director of the Office of Community Oriented Police Services (COPS Office), of the U.S. Department of Justice called LVMPD’s Sheriff Gillespie. The director offered the assistance of the COPS Office through its Critical Response Technical Assistance grant to reduce OISs. Within a week of this phone call, Sheriff Gillespie sent members of his executive command to Washington, D.C., to meet with the COPS Office. They discussed the reforms that LVMPD was already undertaking to address the issue and the areas in which technical assistance would be beneficial.
Simultaneously, the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada (ACLUNV) filed a petition with the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division on behalf of the Las Vegas chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The petition requested that the Civil Rights Division commence an investigation and pursue civil remedies to reform the LVMPD, claiming that the LVMPD “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.”
In late January 2012, the COPS Office asked CNA to examine the LVMPD’s policies and practices as they relate to the use of force and OISs. The goals of this review—and, subsequently those of the reforms identified by both LVMPD and CNA—were as follows:
- Reduce the number of shootings
- Reduce the number of persons killed as a result of OISs
- Transform LVMPD’s organization and culture as it relates to deadly force
- Enhance officer safety
The focus of the COPS Office and CNA review centered on LVMPD deadly force issue areas involving: 1) policy and procedures; 2) training and tactics; 3) investigation and documentation; and 4) review.
CNA implemented a multifaceted approach to the review of LVMPD’s policies and practices by:
- Interviewing nearly 100 officers and community stakeholders
- Directly observing LVMPD’s internal and policing (external) operations
- Conducting a detailed study of volumes of internal documents
- Conducting an analysis of LVMPD data on OISs
- Reviewing relevant national standards and practices of other similar jurisdictions
- Delivering direct technical assistance and establishing a collaborative partnership with LVMPD throughout this engagement
After 6 months of conducting its review and collaboratively working with LVMPD, CNA and the COPS Office documented 40 LVMPD reforms regarding use of force policies and other areas related to OISs. Additionally, CNA has made 35 new findings and 40 new recommendations. Major findings and recommendations include the following:
Officer initiated stops are more likely to result in a shooting of an unarmed suspect than any other type of contact.
Recommendation: LVMPD should conduct uniform training on the legal parameters of officer-initiated contacts (e.g., consensual stops, investigative detention) throughout the department, starting with proactive entities such as the Gang Crimes Bureau. LVMPD has created training videos on constitutional policing issues. LVMPD should continue to incorporate additional training on this topic into scenario-based and role-playing training modules.
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.
Recommendation: LVMPD should separate its Use of Force Policy into several smaller, specific policies. This should include a core policy that serves as the foundation for the other related policies. Examples of stand-alone policies include rifles, shotguns, and other firearms; ECDs; less-lethal shotguns; batons; OC spray; and other less-lethal weapons.
The LVMPD de-escalation training is not a requirement and does not include an evaluation component.
Recommendation: LVMPD should establish an annual requirement for officers at the rank of sergeant and below to undergo a minimum number of hours of de-escalation training and formalize assessments of de-escalation tactics in AOST and RBT. LVMPD should also devote one quarter of its defensive tactics training to de-escalation.
The LVMPD needs to better manage multiple officer situations. Tactical errors and fatalities are more prevalent when multiple officers are on the scene.
Recommendation: LVMPD should ensure that supervisors and officers are prepared to handle multiple officer situations in the context of deadly force. It should use reality-based incident command scenarios to train supervisors and officers on the management and direction of multiple officers during a critical incident.
The LVMPD developed a Force Investigation Team (FIT) model in late 2010. In April 2012, citing man-power issues, the Robbery and Homicide Division stopped the FIT model of one squad handling all officer involved uses of deadly force. They returned to a process of all Homicide squads handling the investigations on a rotating basis.
Recommendation: LVMPD should re-establish a specialized group of investigators designated to conduct comprehensive deadly force investigations, in conjunction with the District Attorney’s Office, that are legal in nature.
In addition to the recommendations made by CNA, LVMPD has simultaneously made a number of organizational reforms since the start of this initiative. Reforms initiated by LVMPD include forming the Office of Internal Oversight (OIO); updating the department’s Use of Force Policy; expanding the scope of the Use of Force Review Board by establishing new findings; and releasing the OIO summary reports on OISs to the public. Not only has LVMPD consulted with CNA in making these reforms, they have also taken the recommendations made by the ACLU into consideration. As an example it has added a “reverence for life” statement in the department’s recently updated Use of Force Policy.
In order to help the LVMPD implement the reforms identified in this report, CNA has developed implementation steps for each recommendation made. This implementation plan identifies the next steps required to carry out these reforms. Upon release of this report, LVMPD and CNA will review the implementation plan and determine the necessary steps and timeframe required to carry out the reforms. After 6 months, the COPS Office will review the status of each reform listed in the plan.
Download the PDF