Las Vegas Sun

October 19, 2021

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Councilman McDonald hangs up his badge

Las Vegas City Councilman Michael McDonald will celebrate his 10th anniversary as a Metropolitan Police Department officer today without his badge or uniform.

The mayor pro tem announced Monday he will officially resign from Metro this week, and he has already worked his last shift.

Although McDonald has tried to delicately balance his elected duties with his job responsibilities for four years, the weight of the badge coupled with the lure of a life in politics led to what he calls "the toughest thing I've done in my life."

"I fought to get that badge, and the day I set it down, it's going to hurt," an emotional McDonald said last Tuesday in an interview at his home just two days before his last shift. "Getting that badge was the biggest moment of my life."

McDonald, 34, is in the midst of a re-election campaign for City Council in Ward 1. The night shifts and violent calls that beleaguer many police officers accounted for only half the stress in McDonald's public life.

"I see every fact of life as a police officer," McDonald said. "Some things I see are worse than the bowels of Hell. But I tell you, that makes it a lot easier to deal with the city issues.

"If you can handle a knife call or a gun call, you can handle zoning," McDonald said.

In 10 years on the force, McDonald has been one of the most highly decorated officers, but he has also drawn criticism for "double dipping" as both a public employee and city boss.

He received the department's community service and meritorious service awards for rescuing Juan Lopez from a burning apartment in 1993 and for his work on the highly regarded Community 89109 Project, which aimed to rid the 89109 zip code area in south-central Las Vegas of drugs and gangs.

It was that project -- under then-Metro southeast area commander Jerry Keller -- that sparked McDonald's interest in politics.

"We were just trying to take back neighborhoods," McDonald said of the project. "I got a taste of working with the county commissioners and started going to meetings held by our councilman."

At one of those meetings, a resident asked McDonald to run for office himself. He won election to City Council in 1995 at age 30, making him the youngest councilman ever and the only one to ever work for Metro.

After that election, a judge ruled McDonald could retain his job on Metro's Las Vegas Strip bike patrol but that he had to abstain on council votes involving the police department.

Even with his abstentions, splitting those duties has led to criticism over the years from both constituents and Metro.

During the 1998 city budget hearings, McDonald assailed Metro and Keller, its sheriff, for what he called a top-heavy department. Keller dared the council to investigate the department and was vindicated several weeks ago with a glowing audit report showing no "top-heavy" management.

On Monday night a man at a mayoral election forum asked the candidates if they would allow "double-dipping" by a public official who works as a police officer.

Although McDonald says his "heart and soul are with Metro," the time constraints and duties of both his elected position and his profession were beginning to conflict too often.

"That's where the gray hair comes in," McDonald said, bowing his chin and pointing to the top of his head.

McDonald considered resigning from Metro for three years, but he decided to quit only after friend and Clark County Commissioner Lance Malone -- a former Metro officer -- resigned from the force and showed McDonald it didn't have a negative impact on Malone's political career.

"I don't think it will hurt me," McDonald said of his decision to resign. "I am a police officer, and I'll always have that."

In his years on the force, McDonald was injured in two automobile accidents and once when he chased a suspect over a brick wall -- leading to criticism from his most vocal council opponent, Steve Miller.

Miller's website refers to McDonald as "Officer Goldbrick" for a $181,000 settlement McDonald won last year for a knee injury he suffered when he tripped and fell in a movie theater in 1991.

Many of McDonald's city efforts are grounded in police work, which gives him experience, but also opens him to criticism.

Among the efforts he has sponsored are a code enforcement sweep of the Twin Lakes neighborhood near Rancho Drive that resulted in more than 300 correction notices for violations such as trash and cars parked in front yards.

He also has sponsored ordinances to protect police service animals, set specific zoning for tattoo parlors and create the city's Rapid Response team which, among other things, removes graffiti within 72 hours of it first showing up.

McDonald, who had considered running for mayor this year, now says he is dedicated to serving the rest of his council term, and four more years if re-elected this spring.

However, he also is keeping a close eye on local and state politics and may run for the County Commission or a statewide office in the future.

In fact, McDonald said what he has experienced as a cop will help him in politics.

On one recent shift, McDonald handled a violent domestic abuse case in which the children were taken to social services, the wife went to the hospital and the husband to jail.

McDonald's partner turned to him afterward and said, "I bet you no elected official has ever seen this."

On the last shift of his career, McDonald finished his night with a foot pursuit in one of the 89109 neighborhoods.

"It was kind of appropriate that I started there and ended there," he said.

McDonald said his fellow officers greeted him with cheers and hugs after that final shift last Thursday. But he said he felt the burden of his decision to quit immediately after closing his locker.

"Shutting that thing for the last time just left me with a heavy heart because being a police officer is who I am," McDonald said. "I'm a public servant."