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Follow-Up to Federal Probe Credits Vegas Police for Reforms

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A federal office that began dissecting Las Vegas police practices five years ago for a first-in-the-nation “collaborative” review is crediting the department in a new report for “notable and sustained” policy changes and a sharp drop in the number of officer shootings.

After logging a record 25 shootings in 2010, Las Vegas police were involved in just 16 shootings in 2015, the assessment said, and the department noted this week that the number dropped even more in 2016, to 10.

Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, the head of the metropolitan police department, said the 50-page follow-up by the U.S. Department of Justice office of Community Oriented Policing Services showed reform and training continue even after department scrutiny officially ended in May 2014.

“At a time when other agencies are under a great deal of public scrutiny over police use of force, this agency did some hard work five years ago and underwent changes with the guidance of the COPS office,” Lombardo said. “This report reinforces that our efforts are paying off and will keep us moving in a positive direction.”

Fifteen other police agencies in 12 other states are getting similar COPS office oversight today, including Baltimore, Milwaukee, San Francisco, and St. Louis County, home to Ferguson, Missouri.

In Philadelphia, a final report about the police use of deadly force is due out in coming months, COPS agency spokeswoman Mary Brandenberger said Friday.

Oher agencies getting scrutiny are in North Charleston, South Carolina; Fayetteville, North Carolina; Calexico and Salinas in California; St. Anthony, Minnesota; Spokane, Washington; Chester, Pennsylvania; Memphis, Tennessee; Commerce City, Colorado; and Fort Pierce, Florida.

Las Vegas in January 2012 became the first agency in the nation to undergo the alternate review process, despite complaints from the local American Civil Liberties Union and NAACP that a full-scale U.S. Department of Justice probe of Las Vegas police use-of-force policies was warranted.

Criticism had reached a crescendo after a series of high-profile police shootings and findings by the Las Vegas Review-Journal that 142 people had been killed by Las Vegas police in a little more than a decade. The newspaper investigation concluded that Las Vegas police were quicker to the trigger than officers in other similarly sized cities.

An initial COPS report in November 2012 called for an “organizational transformation” and said Las Vegas police failed to meet national best-practices standards.

It recommended that every officer and sergeant be trained to use non-lethal methods — verbal commands, pepper spray, “beanbag” shotgun rounds or Tasers — before resorting to guns.

A final report 18 months later said the department had already adopted nearly all the review group’s 80 suggested reforms.

Now, “The department has made notable and sustained efforts to make progress toward verbal and tactical de-escalation,” the follow-up report said, and “impressive progress toward increased transparency and increased information sharing around” officer shootings and uses of force.

While the COPS review didn’t endorse the use of police body cameras, former Sheriff Doug Gillespie began a pilot program to test the devices in March 2014. Today, the department reports more than 1,600 of nearly 2,600 sworn police officers use the devices.

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