Sunday, May 19, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Metro Sheriff Doug Gillespie has had a busy first four months of 2013.
In January, not long after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Gillespie joined other law enforcement members at a meeting with President Barack Obama to discuss gun policy.
By the end of February, Gillespie’s officers were handling one of the highest-profile shootings in Las Vegas in years: the deaths of three people after someone opened fire from a moving vehicle on the Las Vegas Strip, killing one and causing a fiery car crash that killed two more.
On April 15, terrorists set off two bombs at the Boston Marathon finish line, prompting officials across the country to evaluate their own procedures.
In the meantime, Metro Police’s top cop was arguing against cuts in the department budget and a possible reduction in the federal assessment of where Las Vegas ranks among major metropolitan areas as a potential terrorist target.
With those developments in the first third of the year in mind, the Sun sat down with Gillespie to discuss how events in Clark County and throughout the country have influenced law enforcement strategies going forward.
Metro has had a pandering investigation team for years, and just last month a suspected pimp, Arman Izadi, was arrested and faces 20 charges, including kidnapping and battery. Has Metro been looking at pandering on the Strip more closely since the Strip shooting, in which the alleged shooter is a suspected pimp?
I wouldn’t say since Ammar Harris’ arrest we’ve looked at that more closely. We have always taken seriously the pandering aspect of prostitution investigations, whether it’s dealing with street-level prostitution or dealing with prostitution that occurs in homes or business establishments. … They’re very time-intensive investigations that don’t happen quickly, and to try and connect the most recent pimp-related arrest to that of the Strip shooting and Ammar Harris wouldn’t be appropriate. It just happens to be the one investigation that was concluding about the same time.
After the Strip shooting, the Sun talked to promoters and others who work at clubs and said they saw more police, uniformed and undercover. Was there an increase in enforcement, or is that just perception?
I think that is just perception on their part. Maybe they are just paying a bit more attention to it now than they did in years past. We have lost people — we haven’t gained people — in regards to the size of the Las Vegas Metro Police Department. We have not increased the size of the vice unit. … But I wouldn’t be surprised if some clubs, based on what the event is that night, may now reach out to us for overtime officers. So, I think probably in some of these venues you would see more police officers than maybe you would on a normal night where they don’t have a certain high-profile DJ or something like that. If they are bringing in an entertainer as their headliner that night to attract the people, the club ownership may feel they want a more visible police presence there. So, they pay for the overtime officers.
Your predecessor, Bill Young, discouraged hip-hop acts on the Strip, suggesting they attracted a bad element. Do you share those concerns in terms of Strip properties being more selective in the entertainment they book?
After the events that occurred that night, (club and hotel management) started paying more attention to those particular acts that are coming in. That’s their call. It’s their business, and it’s their responsibility to monitor them and pay attention to who it is that is coming in.
… What I’ve found is that it tends to be the performer, individual or the group themselves, not necessarily the music itself. You can go to certain concert venues or shows, and they play their music and they do their show. They don’t incite the crowd, they don’t attempt to get the crowd out to get overly excited or to do things that may create some issues when you have a group of people packed in. … Those are the kinds of things we look at. So, if those particular groups are coming to town and we are aware of it, we will make the hotel property as well as the event organizer aware of it.
… The promoters that bring in these particular acts, they’re not naive to what’s occurred in New York or L.A. or other locations, and so they’re held accountable from a paying for security standpoint. I believe CityCenter in particular took a look at who was coming in and may have changed or canceled some acts.
There’s a variety of levels of security within hotel properties, and once a month I have a morning meeting with what is referred to as the corporate security executives, and it’s a number of hotel properties that have corporate-level security and we get together and we talk about a variety of issues, clubs, entertainers and what’s going on.
What did you tell the president in January, and have your thoughts on gun policy changed since then?
I think the focus of the discussion should be on violent crime in America. I think when incidents occur, whether it’s Sandy Hook or a variety of other things that occur, we get too focused on the gun debate. And, because we do, we really don’t get into discussions on how to impact what that gun debate is focusing on, and that’s violent crime in America. I believe that overarching view is shared by my peers across America, whether they’re sheriffs or chiefs of police, particularly those of us in large jurisdictions.
Right now Metro is installing more cameras on the Strip, correct?
Yes, I believe cameras in public areas are a way that we can more appropriately add to the overall effectiveness of our plan in keeping Las Vegas Boulevard safe.
Cameras don’t always provide you the opportunity to prevent something right at that moment or intervene right at that moment. But as you’ve seen in Boston, as you’ve seen in London, as you’ve seen in New York, cameras are very, very beneficial to the apprehension of those responsible for events, whether it's a purse snatch, a pickpocket, a shooting or, God forbid, some sort of explosive device like we’ve seen in Boston.
… A good portion of the money came from Department of Homeland Security grant funds through the Urban Areas Strategic Initiative.
Speaking of which, Clark County received $1.8 million from that federal program last year, but there are concerns that the area will lose funding as authorities reassess the potential threats in each urban area. Where does that process stand?
The list is not out yet, and through little leaks here and there we had some information come back to us saying certain areas of our ranking would be downgraded. We were afforded the opportunity to rebut that, which we did.
… How jurisdictions are ranked based on risk assessment is very frustrating to myself, as well as other law enforcement leaders, because we have very little input into the formula that is used. The formula is derived basically from emergency managers and FEMA, and they respond to incidents. We respond, but we also work to prevent. In my opinion, the DHS needs to refocus energies from the response and recovery aspect of those Homeland Security dollars, and have more of a prioritization on the prevention. And the key component to those prevention strategies is local, state, federal and tribal law enforcement.
Did the Boston Marathon bombing change your thinking at all on how you deal with big crowds and events in Las Vegas?
I wouldn’t say it changed our approach, because we are pretty unique from a standpoint of the number of special events we have, whether they are athletic events or entertainment events. What we looked at right away with the Boston situation was … is this going to be unique to Boston right now, or is this more of a coordinated type thing? That’s always our concern when you deal with a situation like this. Is this one or two people in that city, or is this the catalyst to do things in other cities. So, immediately you look at events that you have going on, and then what will be occurring in the next couple of days that have any similarity to that of what occurred in Boston, and we start taking a look at the security aspect of that.
Then the other thing is that we start to monitor very closely, as best we can, what took place. … What really took place? Where were the items placed? How sophisticated were they? All of those things come into play, and then we’ll look at that in conjunction with how we currently manage our events. Then, later this month I’ll actually be sitting through a presentation done by the (police) commissioner of Boston on the event as a whole.
The budget for the upcoming fiscal year is $13 million less than your request and continues a downward trend over the past few years. How has that limited your capabilities in terms of policing the Strip and large events?
Over the past five years, we’ve eliminated 426 police officer positions and 345 full-time civilian positions.
Now those 426 officers are a little over 14 percent of the commissioned police force, and that impacts your ability to deploy resources at any given moment.
So how has the reduction in budget impacted our organization? We’ve gone from being highly proactive as a police organization to more of a reactive organization today. I’m not telling you that we’re not doing proactive things, because we are, but we’re not able to do them to the level that we were able to do in the past.
… Now, have we reduced the number of officers working out of Convention Center command that supports the Strip? No, we have not. We’ve reduced other aspects of our organization, from investigative support function and kept minimum staffing levels in patrol that we want to keep. … But they still have seen a reduction in the number of people on patrol. Of course they have. We haven’t taken all 426 of these positions out of the detective bureau.