Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie, whose department has faced questions in recent months about the number of shootings, police crashes and other deadly incidents in recent years, said Monday that the more than 3,300 sworn Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department patrol and corrections officers in his command are being trained to use other tools before resorting to gunfire.
“When an officer takes a life in the performance of their job, there are no winners,” Gillespie told reporters in a news conference coinciding with the release of an Internet video describing the training program. He said officers are being taught to use “advisements, warnings, verbal persuasion and other tactics and alternatives to higher levels of force.”
“The department respects the value of every human life,” Gillespie declared as he cited a 23-page policy implemented June 22. “The application of deadly force is a measure to be employed in the most extreme circumstances.”
The policy comes with a consulting firm commissioned by a federal Justice Department program due to release a report in August about Las Vegas police policies and practices.
It follows months of calls by the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for a federal Justice Department probe of Las Vegas police deadly force policies, and the submission by the ACLU in March of a 62-page proposal for police reforms.
Dane Claussen, ACLU of Nevada executive director, welcomed some of the reforms that Gillespie outlined Monday. But Claussen also noted that a system of Clark County coroner fact-finding inquests in cases involving deaths in police confrontations has remained stalled since 2010 by legal wrangling.
“There’s nothing in this new policy about consequences of improper or illegal use of force,” the ACLU official said.
The NAACP and ACLU have pointed to a Las Vegas Review-Journal report in November that found Las Vegas-area police killed 142 people in 378 officer-involved shootings since 1990. The newspaper concluded that Las Vegas police used deadly force at a higher rate than counterparts in other urban U.S. police agencies.
Critics also pointed to the police slaying last December of an unarmed 43-year-old Gulf War veteran in his car after police said he rammed his vehicle into police cruisers, and the June 2010 slaying of a 21-year-old apartment resident who was confronted in a bathroom by police during a botched drug raid.
Gillespie, the elected head of the state’s largest police force, had promised reforms while defending the department from criticism that police too quickly and too often apply heavy hands and deadly force, and aren’t held accountable.
Gillespie said Monday that police in his jurisdiction, including the Las Vegas Strip and most of Clark County, have shot at people just five times this year. He said that was less than comparable periods over the last decade, and promised close reviews of each case.
“We derive our authority from the community,” he said. “The improper use of force erodes the legitimacy of that authority.”