Las Vegas Sun

May 21, 2018

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GUEST COLUMN:

Police and citizens, like nation as a whole, should stand united

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Tony Gutierrez / AP

Well-wishers line the entrance of Restland Funeral Home and Cemetery as the processional carrying Dallas police Sgt. Michael Smith arrives for the burial service, Thursday, July 14, 2016, in Dallas. Officer Smith was one of five police officers killed during a protest in Dallas the week before.

We all learn as children that words have power. We learn that words hurt and we need to control what we say. They can incite fear, anger and even hatred.

They are so powerful that there are few exceptions to free speech. We cannot yell fire in a crowded theater. We cannot utter words to incite a riot or slander someone with a lie.

Arguably, one of the most powerful words is “hate,” an emotion that compelled one man to strike down five Dallas police officers on July 7, while they protected citizens' First Amendment rights. It was also hate that drove two individuals to walk into a crowded pizza shop in 2014 and murder two Las Vegas Metro Police officers while they were at lunch.

Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo considers a question during a meeting with Las Vegas Sun reporters and editors Tuesday, March 24, 2015, at Las Vegas Metro Police headquarters.

Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo considers a question during a meeting with Las Vegas Sun reporters and editors Tuesday, March 24, 2015, at Las Vegas Metro Police headquarters.

Now, two cities 1,200 miles apart share tragedies two years apart. Both were fueled by hatred toward police. This is a cautionary tale of two cities. It is also the story of many agencies across the country whose officers were struck down by hate — deaths often unrelated to events outside their control.

It was Abraham Lincoln who said, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

As every city turns to its leaders for answers in times like these, we are poised to use this moment to drive positive change.

The most effective weapon is knowledge, because hatred often thrives on ignorance. So we must ask ourselves, what is the driving force of the public’s anger? And who will be the voice of reason to bring the temperature down before things boil over?

The answer is that we all play a part in coming up with a solution.

As shapers of public opinion, national media outlets should look inward and apply the same hard line of questioning to itself as it does to the agencies it covers. They should be asking, “Do we cover each shooting fairly? As gatekeepers of information, media outlets choose to cover certain shootings over others. What drives that coverage? In the rush to be first, news outlets often don’t have enough facts, so they keep viewers watching as they speculate and fan the flames of doubt. When people turn on the television and see only hopelessness, they are robbed.

Police agencies must take an internal look at their practices as well. LVMPD did this in 2011 and implemented bias training and de-escalation techniques to avoid loss of life whenever possible. And to the credit of many other agencies across the country, they have followed suit.

The public has its role as well. Citizens have a responsibility to act within the law. If they are not being heard, the law allows the freedom to protest peaceably. If someone has been treated unjustly, they can argue their case in court. If an officer has treated someone unfairly, they can file a complaint with the police department.

For real change to occur between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve, participation is needed from all sides.

In Las Vegas, residents shape Metro’s decision-making process in a number of ways. Community members sit on the Critical Incident Review Process, where citizens can weigh in on officer involved shootings.

Leaders of the police department rely heavily on input from faith-based leaders, business owners, neighbors and its Metro Multi-Cultural Advisory Committee, where a diverse number of interests have a voice. Area Commands hold monthly meetings every first Tuesday of the month to hear the concerns of neighbors and share information.

A police agency is only as strong as its community. In Las Vegas, the police department is listening. The question citizens must now answer is, what are your solutions to drive positive change?

In times of tragedy like the profound loss in Dallas, we are unified as we stand with them in sorrow and support. We are not two cities. We are one. We are not two countries. We are one. We should remember as we move forward we must be one nation undivided.

Joe Lombardo was elected Clark County sheriff in 2014. He joined Metro in 1988 and rose through the ranks, becoming assistant sheriff in 2011.

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