Las Vegas Sun

August 21, 2019

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Where I Stand:

Effective policing requires a community effort

As he does every August, Brian Greenspun is taking some time off and is turning over his Where I Stand column to others. Today’s guest columnist is Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo.

Click to enlarge photo

Interview with Sheriff Joseph Lombardo of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016.

On a recent Sunday morning, I attended services at Victory Baptist Church in West Las Vegas.

As I sat in the back row of the church, Richard Fowler, pastor at Victory Baptist, called me up front.

I had no idea he was going to do this. He told his congregation about how I started coming to Victory Baptist during my run for sheriff and how I’ve continued coming even though my campaigning days are over. He also talked about how the relationship that the church shares with Metro has a lot to do with my visits.

Fowler, it turns out, has been one of the best guardians for Metro Police in fighting violent crime and negative perceptions about the police. His sermon gave me something to think about.

Policing isn’t always about arresting the problem away. Sometimes, it’s about showing up. Being a part of the community means you gain understanding about the unique problems that it faces. Whether it’s poverty or distrust of the police, the best salve for a struggling community is unity.

I tell this story only to make a greater point. Midway through 2019, crime is down 12 percent from last year. Homicides are down 39 percent with a solve rate at more than 90 percent. Our robberies are down by 20 percent. For comparison, five years ago it wasn’t uncommon for Metro to be simultaneously investigating a dozen robbery series — defined as three or more robberies committed by individuals using a similar M.O.

I can’t think of another U.S. metropolitan area that can come close to achieving our drop in crime now. But if there is any boasting to be done, it is not by Metro or me. The accolades go to the residents of this city — the people who wanted a safer city and were willing to work for it.

At the same time, Metro had to do some changing too. Police began to focus on crime-prone areas by working side-by-side with community and faith-based organizations. Officers concentrated on being vigilant during the first 24 hours following a shooting. Visit-by-visit, they became known to those neighborhoods. Doors began to open in an area that was besieged by crime. They were no longer a stranger in a uniform. They were part of a network of change. They quickly found that retaliatory violence decreased by an astounding 90 percent.

Over the years, Metro’s model for community policing has taken shape through its collaborative reform measures, which put into place more accountability. Biased-based police training and cultural immersion helps our officers gain a greater understanding of dealing with the diverse cultures that make up Las Vegas. The Metro Multi-Cultural Affairs Committee was formed to improve our cultural competence. Programs sprang from there at area commands throughout the valley to address our most challenged neighborhoods where crime seemed to concentrate.

The recent success of Bolden Area Command’s Little League baseball team showed us how police and residents working together can affect an area. Violent crimes in the past year in the Doolittle area, where the team plays, dropped by 75 percent during the season. Anecdotally, parents whose kids were on the team began to have less hesitation about sharing valuable crime information.

A similar program has worked in the Downtown Area Command, where community-oriented policing units helped neighbors take back control of the block at Sunrise Boulevard and 21st Street. Officers worked with code enforcement to make landlords more accountable to improve the quality of life of their tenants through educating them about renter’s rights, helping to fix problem properties and working to oust tenants who used the area as a base of criminal operation. Shortly after the initiative began in 2018, crime dropped by an incredible 43 percent on that block, and officers continue to keep those numbers down.

Likewise, the Northwest Area Command began its PS417 program to deal with its high volume of domestic violence calls. Officers created an alliance with SafeNest, that brings a domestic violence expert to the scene of the incident and provides resources for the victim. They complete the paperwork for them, get housing, bus passes, and provide shelter and clothing. As a result, calls for domestic violence have gone down notably in that area.

Putting handcuffs on the problem is no longer enough. Engagement is the key that unlocks the power of a community. It helps us address the underlying causes of crime so we can work on preventing it in the first place.

Just as Pastor Fowler’s church cannot work without its congregation, a police department cannot be successful without hearing from and working with its community. Without that, we would be an insular. out-of-touch agency.

For any police department to have long-term success, there is nothing of greater value than public trust. Building this trust requires constant care and attention.

As we move forward, we continue to learn by plugging in, listening and changing to suit the needs of the people we serve. The resources are already there in our community. The nonprofit and faith-based networks are in place, and the Office of Community Engagement and our community oriented policing units continue to create stronger alliances between law enforcement, victim services, clergy and the community to make it even stronger.