Las Vegas Sun

September 16, 2019

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Department of Justice program to examine Metro Police use of force

Sheriff Doug Gillespie

Sheriff Doug Gillespie

A new Justice Department program will examine 20 years of use-of-force incidents by Metro Police, ultimately recommending best practices for the agency, officials announced Thursday.

Bernard Melekian, director of the Justice Department’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), said Sheriff Doug Gillespie approached federal officials several months ago, seeking guidance about use-of-force issues.

Public outcry and calls for reform regarding use of force by Metro Police hit a crescendo with the 2010 police killings of Trevon Cole and Erik Scott. Just last month, Metro’s Fiscal Affairs Committee approved a $1.7 million settlement to the family of Cole, who was shot by police while unarmed in his apartment bathroom.

The new initiative, loosely titled Outreach and Assistance, falls within the existing COPS program and will cater to local law enforcement agencies that voluntarily seek help with any policing issues, Melekian said.

Metro is the first department enrolled in the program, which relies on national law enforcement experts, many whom are former police officers, he said.

“We have an understanding of what the agencies are facing,” paired with a broader national perspective as part of the Justice Department, Melekian said.

Officials from the program have been in Las Vegas for two days, meeting with Metro’s command staff and beginning to examine cases, Melekian said.

“I think this is a real opportunity for the Department of Justice to really provide some direct, meaningful assistance to local law enforcement, above and beyond grants,” he said.

Melekian expects the program to eventually generate a report listing best practices for use of force by officers, which could be applied nationally as well, he said.

“What the exact nature of that will be, I don’t know,” he said. “It’s too early to tell.”

The federal program will review procedures, make on-site visits and incorporate community feedback into the evaluation, in addition to the case analyses, officials said.

The group also will include crime and justice analysts, federal representatives and community leaders.

“This is a proactive step that our department initiated to properly address community concerns about police use of force,” Gillespie said in a statement released Thursday.

“This is a rare opportunity for us to have independent experts look at the big picture and give us the critical analysis and support needed to make this organization even stronger,” he said.

Gillespie also announced the creation of the Office of Internal Oversight, which will serve as a liaison between Metro and the federal program to act on any recommendations that result.

Capt. Kirk Primas, previously of Metro’s organizational development bureau, will head the new office.

The program’s findings and recommendations will be available to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, which Gillespie met with earlier this week, officials said.

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