DOJ Update: Las Vegas PD Making Progress, Police Shootings in Las Vegas Down to .86 Per Month

Record-tying 25 people shot by Vegas cops in 2012



Las Vegas police fatally shot 12 people in 2011, a record, leading the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department to volunteer to undergo a review by the Department of Justice. That review (pdf) noted many problems with the department's practice of use of force, blaming poor training, cumbersome policies, and tactical errors for the high number of officer involved shootings in the area. The Department of Justice made 75 recommendations last November, including reform of the use of force review board, new "tactical practices," the use of body cameras, and clearer and simpler policies, reporting that the police department had already begun to address nearly half the DOJ's "calls for action" before the report was released.

According to the Las Vegas Review Journal, a six-month update by the Department of Justice's COPS office found that the monthly rate of officer involved shootings had fallen from 1.46 for the period between 2007 and 2010, when the police department established a "Critical Incident Review Team" to study police shootings, to .86 per month since last year's review. The Review Journal reports:

The Use of Force Review Board, a seven-member panel of four officers and three civilians that reviews police shootings, was once considered a rubber-stamp process that "justified" 99 percent of police shootings.

But in the nine shootings reviewed since the changes, the board has ruled against an officer in some fashion one third of the time, the study found.

The department changed the classifications to "administrative approval" and "administrative disapproval" and started scrutinizing officer tactics, decisions and training. A separate Tactical Review Board, held immediately after the Use of Force Review Board, also examines the decisions of every officer on the call, not just those who used deadly force.

The changes were aimed at examining the totality of the officer's actions rather than simply issuing a blanket approval or rare disapproval. Before the board changes,  no officer in an on-duty shooting was ever recommended for firing.

Since the changes, there have been two: Jacquar Roston, who shot and wounded an unarmed man after mistaking a label on his hat for a gun, and Jesus Arevalo, who shot and killed mentally ill Gulf War veteran Stanley Gibson in December 2011.

In addition to Roston and Arevalo, four other officers in shootings were assigned remedial training. The supervisors on scene for the Gibson shooting, Sgt. Michael Hnatuick and Lt. David Dockendorf, were also disciplined. Hnatuick was recommended for suspension and Dockendorf was to be demoted two ranks to officer, although their punishment can be appealed in arbitration.

The Justice Department says Las Vegas police have yet to implement nine recommendations, including training officers in "de-escalation techniques" and having a special team of detectives to investigate shootings. The police department briefly had such a team but according to the DOJ those detectives didn't receive special training in police shootings.

The Department of Justice has and is reviewing a number of city's police departments, including Miami, New Orleans, and Albuquerque. Most recently it declined the city of Austin's request to review the police department there, finding "no reasonable cause to believe that APD has engaged in a pattern, or practice that violated the Constitution or laws of the United States," the standard by which it initiates review. There were already six police shootings in Austin when the city requested a DOJ review in August, with three being fatal.