The Clark County sheriff and Republican nominee for governor of Nevada helped craft Las Vegas' use of force guidelines.
A report issued by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department in 2021 shows that the use of nondeadly force by its officers surged by 22% over the previous five years of Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo's leadership.
Lombardo, the Republican nominee for Nevada governor, will face off against incumbent Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak in the midterm election on Nov. 8.
The report defines reportable use-of-force incidents as "any use of force which results in injury or complaint of injury, complaint of continuing pain or any use of force greater than low-level force" and includes physical assault and the use of weapons such as tasers and guns.
Even while the number of reported use-of-force incidents has climbed, data from the Nevada Department of Public Safety shows that violent crime has been declining in the state over the past four years. And despite the increase in use-of-force incidents, which the department's own report shows has disproportionately affected Black people, Lombardo considered the results of the report an endorsement of the conduct of the police department he oversees.
"It shows that low-lethal is being implemented more often than not, which as a result deadly force hasn't become — it's always an issue — but it hasn't become a blatant issue to where we have a problem, a systemic problem within the department," Lombardo told the Las Vegas Review Journal in June 2021 after the report was released.
Lombardo was involved in crafting the LVMPD use-of-force guidelines in 2013, when he served as assistant sheriff. The new guidelines were developed after a review by the department and the U.S. Department of Justice found that LVMPD officers had killed 47% of people they shot.
Lombardo updated the use-of-force guidelines again in May 2020, more than five years into his tenure as sheriff.
In an opinion column published in the Las Vegas Sun in 2016, Lombardo called the LVMPD a "a model agency on use-of-force practices. Our success is the result of learning from mistakes, changing our business practices and involving our community in the process."
Before the column was published, in 2015, LVMPD officers shot and killed a 24-year-old with a history of mental illness. The family of the victim sued, saying the officers used excessive force and were not properly trained in handling a person with mental illness.
Later, in 2017, an LVMPD officer was charged after he chased a man, used a taser on him seven times, and used an unauthorized choke hold to subdue him. The victim, 40-year-old Tashii Brown, died of asphyxia from a "police restraint procedure," according to the Clark County coroner.
In 2019, Byron Williams died in police custody after officers chased him over a broken bicycle light and restrained him face down with his hands behind his back. Body camera footage later showed that while he was held in restraints, Williams — who was unarmed — said more than 20 times that he couldn't breathe. The Clark County coroner's office later ruled Williams' death a homicide.
"Empty hand tactics," which according to the LVMPD's use of force policy are "physical constraint, hand control [escorts], takedowns not likely to cause injury," were the most common method cited in the reported incidents, accounting for 689 in 2021. They are followed by tasers, which accounted for 181 incidents, an 8% increase over the previous year.
According to the report, Black people were the subjects of 43% of nondeadly use-of-force incidents, even though recent census data shows only 12% of the population of Las Vegas is Black. At the same time, use of force against white people, who make up 58.5% of the population, has steadily declined over the past five years, from 37% in 2017 to 29% in 2021.
FiveThirtyEight's polling average shows Lombardo has a 0.9% lead over Sisolak. Inside Elections, the nonpartisan political forecasting outlet, rates the race a toss-up.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.