Director’s Column: December 2012

Last month I was in Las Vegas, Nevada, to announce the completion of an 8-month review of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department’s (LVMPD) use of deadly force. This was part of a ground-breaking effort we here at the COPS Office have launched to assist state and local law enforcement agencies with challenges they face through a collaborative reform model, and it could not have been done without the commitment of LVMPD Sheriff Douglas Gillespie and the support of the U.S. Attorney for Nevada, Daniel Bogden. It is not always easy to be the first to try something new, but they—along with many others, both in Nevada and within the Department of Justice—made the process work.

The LVMPD volunteered to participate in this new model process after a series of officer-involved shootings in 2011. The result—a just-released report and its 75 recommendations—was based on a review of the use of deadly force over the last 5 years, and included an analysis of policies and procedures, trainings and tactics, investigations and documentations, and case reviews. Throughout the process interviews were conducted with 95 difference stakeholders, including community members, current and former officers, prosecutors, community organizations, and police union officials.

Why exactly is this ground-breaking? For a start, this was not a traditional federal investigation of a local agency. While it cannot replace the important role that the Civil Rights Division plays or the value of the consent decree process in reforming law enforcement agencies, it does offer another, truly collaborative process aimed at assisting an agency in doing their job better. We also believe it has the potential to be good for agencies financially. In Las Vegas, the cost of participating in the reform process is expected to be about one-third that of implementing a consent decree; and the timeline to begin the work on reform (already underway in less than a year) is much shorter than the typical consent decree.

Also different is that this report and its recommendations are not legally binding as a consent decree would be. Some may see this as a weakness, but I believe its strength is that participation is a commitment by the agency made in the court of public opinion. By volunteering for the process, and in publically releasing the report and its findings, LVMPD has signaled its commitment to change and asked the community they serve to help make the needed reforms and to hold the agency accountable for change.

Part of our ongoing work will be to follow up with the LVMPD in 6 months, and again in a year, to assess their progress toward implementing the recommended changes. LVMPD has already addressed, or begun to address, 39 of the 75 recommendations, and I expect to see that number grow in the coming months. But our measure of success is not how many of the 75 recommendations are implemented. Rather, success will be if there is a reduction in the number of officer-involved shootings, along with an increase in the community’s confidence in the agency. I am confident that this will happen.

I also anticipate having the opportunity to work this collaborative reform model with other jurisdictions in the future. Community collaboration is at the heart of everything you do as law enforcement officers, and with this model, we at the COPS Office and the Department of Justice are proud to bring you yet another tool that can help transform your agencies so you can best serve your communities.

Watch Director Melekian at the November 15, 2012 press conference in Las Vegas:


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