Las Vegas Sun

March 19, 2019

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Changing times leave sheriff feeling uneasy

Lombardo editorial board

Steve Marcus

Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo responds to a question during an interview with the Las Vegas Sun editorial board at Las Vegas Metro Police headquarters Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018.

Sheriff Joe Lombardo has a nagging, constant feeling of unease. It’s a new reality, he said, brought on by last year’s Oct. 1 massacre on the Strip and reinforced with regularity by other mass shootings, such as in Parkland, Fla., and Santa Fe, Texas.

“It keeps me up at night, wondering if we’re doing everything possible to protect our children, protect our community,” Lombardo said Wednesday in a meeting with the Sun’s editorial board. “We have to be comfortable in our own skin, I guess.”

“I think the world is changing. You’re starting to see events that have never happened in our lifetime … and for unknown reasons,” he said, noting the gruesome nature of some of the violent crime being inflicted on completely innocent victims in Clark County and the rest of the country.

The editorial board meeeting took place less than three weeks before the one-year anniversary of the Route 91 Harvest Festival shooting, in which 58 people were killed and more than 800 others were injured before the shooter, Stephen Paddock, 64, turned a gun on himself. During Wednesday’s meeting, Lombardo addressed a number of other issues affecting Metro Police.

Crime in Clark County

While violent crime in Metro’s jurisdiction is down about 7.5 percent as whole this year, Lombardo expressed frustration.

That’s because the 100 homicides under investigation by Metro detectives so far this year represent a 17 percent uptick compared to the same time in 2017. Property crime is down about 3.5 percent.

From domestic violence killings to child slayings, the agency’s leadership is left wondering why there’s a rise and what can be done, Lombardo said.

Referencing the recent homicides of two 3-year-old children — allegedlywith the involvement of their mothers — Lombardo said, “It’s frustrating why they would resort to that when there are resources available. Are we lacking to communicate (it to the families)?”

Uptick in officer-involved shootings

As to a particularly violent string of Metro officer-involved shootings of armed suspects, some whom have opened fire or used knives to try to attack officers, Lombardo noted, “It seems like suspects are becoming more brazen… they do’t hesitate to shoot at the police.”

Eight such shootings occurred from Aug. 4 to Sept. 3. Metro has opened fire in 19 total incidents so far this year.

There are “people in possession of weapons and attempting to create harm to police officers, and we hadn’t seen the level of concern previously,” Lombardo said.

And it’s not just crimes against police, but also against civilians.

The increase is something that’s being discussed in law enforcement circles across the country, Lombardo said.

“The level of brazen violence is increasing… it’s showing a continuance. It’s not just like a flash in a pan that’s going to go away kind of thing,” he said.

Continuing trends and fentanyl

Lombardo maintains that “well over” 40 percent of suspects or victims in local violent crimes are Californians with ties to that state’s law enforcement and its prison system. Some of them have been identified gang members.

The nexus might be because past legislation depopulated some California prisons, eased parole conditions and lowered the amount of time served for non-violent offenders jailed for parole violations.

Could it also be that criminals think the valley is a good place to commit crimes and easily flee back home?

“I think it’s a little bit of everything,” Lombardo said.

As the opioid epidemic punishes parts of the country, some of that drug use and trafficking — initially prevalent in the East Coast — is moving west, Lombardo said. “we’re starting to see an increase on that,” Lombardo said of the powerful synthetic opioid, fentanyl.

Locally, fentanyl has been spotted in laced MDMA, or molly, making the new mix a “drug of choice,” Lombardo said.

Oct. 1 first responders

As the one-year anniversary of the massacre that killed 58 and wounded hundreds more at the Route 91 Harvest Festival approaches, Lombardo reflected upon one of his other new realities: officers requiring long-term therapy.

“I haven’t in my police experience had a reason to be concerned of such long-term care for our employees,” he said, noting he expected to see post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms among some Metro officers as the anniversary of the Oct. 1 shooting approaches and is remembered.

Though he didn’t have a number of officers who have sought aid for PTSD, Lomardo offered that “surprisingly it was a lot less that I thought there would be.” He noted there were “very few” officers still seeking help.

He knows of only one officer who decided to leave Metro as a result of the mass shooting, Lombardo said.

The sheriff’s next term

Lombardo, who recently was re-elected, intends to oversee the opening of a new Metro substation in Summerlin. The agency partnered with the Howard Hughes Corp., developer of Summerlin. The facility is expected to open in early 2020.

With an expanding geography, distance cops have to travel to certain parts of the valley, can delay response, and this facility should ease that, he said.

Lombardo aims for Metro to work with Southern Nevada municipalities to try to alleviate jail populations by identifying and developing resources to increase bed spaces for the homeless and mentally ill, conditions which often time intertwine.