|Don’t get me wrong. I have not all of a sudden turned into a raving fan of Sheriff Gillespie, but I thought about how difficult — almost impossible — his job must be now that Metro has grown into one of the largest police departments in the U.S. I always wanted to be a police leader (chief or sheriff), but I never considered trying to lead such a large department. I’ve read books by former LAPD Chief Daryl Gates, former NYPD chief Bill Bratton, and others; it is clear that they have a monumental job and incredible responsibility. For example, could former chief Daryl Gates have personally prevented the beating of Rodney King? He wasn’t even in the city of Los Angeles when the incident made the news. He wrote about being sick to his stomach as he learned about the video and when he watched it. Due to the fact that he was LAPD’s chief he was thrust into the spotlight and had to endure that black eye to his personal reputation, to his department, and to American policing. I’m sure that took a toll on his self-esteem and his health (and was emotionally draining); and although he did not personally do anything wrong, he was responsible/accountable by virtue of the position he had accepted! Don’t forget the rioting that occurred as the result of the verdict in Simi Valley; nothing ended with the video from the night in question.I had over 13 years of experience with the LVMPD , had been a lieutenant for four years, and had finished a Master’s Degree from UNLV when I decided that I was ‘ready’ to be a small town chief. I had a chance to reach a career goal and move back to the Midwest to raise my family. We moved to Shawano, Wisconsin, and l lead an agency for just over three years. We had 19 police officers and under 30 total employees. I was 36 years old and did not have any retirement. My experience as a small town chief/administrator/executive was a nightmare that changed my career and impacted my life.
During my first six months, a group of my officers filed formal complaints against me. They were later dismissed. We then had a developmentally-disabled woman get lost in a wooded area within the city limits after she skipped a bus. We (the police) didn’t find her — she yelled out for help from a ‘pit’ a few days later and was located. It was my ‘fault’ because I called off the search before she was found. We had information that she may have left town in a car… we didsearch, but were unable to find her.
A supervisor for the State Patrol told me that my officers were taking free/discounted meals at the local truck stop where there was a big sign announcing “Police Get Half-Price Meals” right next to the cash register. When I politely asked the owner to take down the sign (I didn’t have the authority to tell him how to run his business), he refused; so I decided to tell my officers they could not eat at this location any longer because of the negative public perception and the issue of ‘gratuities’ and expectations and the overriding issue of ethical conduct of the police. Most of my officers were very unhappy with me.
Two of my officers didn’t properly monitor a person brought to the hospital for a mental evaluation/clearance for transport to an institution. This teenager escaped and was able to go home and get a car to drive to the Milwaukee area, where he was involved in a pursuit/attempted to ram police episode and was shot at 27 times by officers from multiple agencies. I called several chiefs and apologized for our role in this matter upon learning of the incident from the news!
A couple of years into the job, I would learn that a supervisor (currently the Shawano, WI police chief) and a new officer had held down a disorderly conduct suspect on a hospital bed to allow a nurse to use a catheter to get a urine sample! A doctor apparently was trying to find out if he was too drunk to be booked at the jail. I learned about this incident more than a month after it happened when the officer showed me the lawsuit paperwork that he had received in the mail. This ‘victim’ never received a dime after this atrocious police/hospital conduct, which should have shocked the conscience of the community at large.
The incident that caught the most media attention was when two of my officers also fired their guns 13 times at the side and rear of a fleeing vehicle that was occupied by an 18-year-old driver and an 18-month-old child in a car seat sitting behind the driver. One of their bullets went through the foot of the child — unintentionally of course. The officers said they did not know a child was in the car, but the driver said that the female officer said, “Hi Baby” as she tapped the roof of the car while waiting for the driver (a known local Native American youth named Joseph Newton) to give his driver’s license to her. I apologized publicly and made it clear that we did not intend to shoot the child and I called for an outside investigation. The officers were trying to arrest the driver for traffic warrants for fleeing from the police on prior incidents; the shooting was NOT what anyone would call a good shooting. I waited months for the report and then had to ‘call-out’ the state investigator for what he put in his report (trying to make this look like a ‘good’ shooting). He even testified in court (the teen got a 12-year prison sentence), and when I challenged this testimony that I read in the paper, he said, “Chief, I’m not going to say something that is going to allow a criminal to go free.” He was telling me he would say whatever he had to say in court to protect the police. I reported this to his supervisors to no avail.
Each of these incidents were negative and were outside of my direct control as the police chief at the time that they happened… but I was responsible for the situation and it was my name and face in the newspaper. I did the best I could do to review the incidents, take corrective action (address policy on firing at or from moving vehicles), and try to change the CULTURE of the organization based on what we learned and what we expected in the future.
This (the CULTURE of the LVMPD) is where Sheriff Gillespie can probably face the greatest individual responsibility. Metro INDEED does have a ‘culture’ and it begins at the top of the organization and from Day 1 of the police academy. I bet the next academy hears the words, “sanctity of human life” this time around; we did not during my academies in 1983 or in 2004. This culture of the LVMPD will be addressed in future columns.
Doug Gillespie has certainly had enough ‘issues’ that received media attention spanning his entire tenure as the sheriff of Clark County. By virtue of running for the position after Bill Young decided to retire and go work in the private sector, Doug accepted responsibility for the leadership and overall administration of the LVMPD. The voters put him in place and had their expectations. Many of them may not be happy with Metro right now, but Doug Gillespie didn’t pull the trigger when Trevon Cole or Stanley Gibson were shot. He was not on the call when Derek Colling shot Tanner Chamberlain or when he later was on video using excessive force against a cameraman. He wasn’t behind the wheel for fatal or controversial police pursuits and he was not the driver of a police unit when fatal traffic accidents took the lives of LVMPD officers. He is not able to stop officers from getting involved in drugs, drunk driving, or other misconduct such as embezzlement or theft or sex crimes or prostitution or debt or divorce or domestic violence!
It is my opinion that officers make personal choices that get them in trouble — but can the sheriff try to PREVENT some of these dangers to police officers? If he can’t prevent misconduct, then what can he do after the fact? I think he can ensure fairness to his own officers (I know this might be shocking to readers, but many members of the LVMPD have been targeted for termination and there has been no fairness or objectivity — or even due process — in some cases). The sheriff can demand consistency and clarify what has been done wrong for all employees to learn from the mistakes of others. The sheriff can ‘self-initiate’ programs and implement policies and procedures based on best practices and even ask for help (outside police professionals). The sheriff can also be transparent and release to the community what really happened when Lt. Hans Walters took the lives of himself and his family. I intend to make a formal records request for information because the Henderson Police Department report is NOT an investigation report!
Sheriff Gillespie can try to hire good people by using the best people he has already hired to set high standards for employment and to oversee background investigations and the hiring process. There should be no shortcuts and no favoritism. I heard that sloppy background checks and favoritism was an issue examined after Officers Mortensen and Brady did a fatal drive-by shooting of a subject just a few months after I had resigned from the LVMPD to become the police chief in Shawano, Wisconsin. I was told that the LVPD administration (Sheriff Keller) spent a lot of time trying to find out what happened and how this horrible incident could have been prevented.
There are literally hundreds of negative incidents that have made the news and shed a negative light on Metro over the past decade. In most cases, the sheriffcan’t do much more than address the matter AFTER THE FACT! Unless the sheriff can control who he places in key (supervisory and management) positions and have complete control over their performance and their CHARACTER (rank does not mean right, and does not mean that the individuals with rank are ethical), things can and will go wrong. The sheriff only gets to promote and create his leadership team from a pool of those who have reached the rank of captain through the civil service promotional system. Clark County does have a Civil Service Board that is supposed to have some oversight authority over hiring and promotions at Metro — but once an individual reaches the rank of captain, he/she can be appointed to deputy chief, assistant sheriff, or undersheriff.
Once the pieces are on the table (like picking a lineup for a fantasy football team) there isn’t much more that Sheriff Gillespie can do except wait until the ‘scores’ are in after the games are played on Sunday. He can then examine the ‘stats’ and evaluate how things went on a given weekend, specific to a special event, or specific to a high-profile incident. He holds meetings on Tuesdays (ACTION Meetings) where he receives information on crime-fighting and operational information. He has other methods (i.e., staff meetings) to receive information on internal investigations, personnel matters, and to deal with media and ‘politics.’ The bottom line: The sheriff has an almost impossible job and he just can’t do it by himself. If he does not delegate authority and responsibility to the right people and he does not take it upon himself to KNOW as much as he can about what is going on, he will face many more challenges. He will look good at times, but will also look very bad at other times.
There are some key questions that the sheriff should be asked and be able to answer: Does he monitor the performance of Internal Affairs and Employee Diversity Section for fairness to employees AND for holding employees accountable for misconduct? Does he have any checks and balances over Labor Relations and the staffers who assist with employment decisions and prepare cases for termination of employment? Does he care what the labor attorney says during arbitration hearings and does he care if his leaders are telling different stories in different hearings — being inconsistent and untruthful? Does he have any quality control over internal hearings (Pre-Termination or Disciplinary Hearings)? When people are untruthful during sworn testimony during arbitration hearings or other proceedings, do they ever have anything to worry about, such as being charged with perjury? I think I know the answers to most of these questions from personal experience. Sheriff Gillespie fired me, but I don’t think he ever read my complaints to Internal Affairs and Employment Diversity before I was fired. I don’t think he has ever read the ‘case file’ and the interviews. I know he has never seen my exhibit book because Sgt. Kelly McMahill never even acknowledged it; it was completely ignored in her reports. Oh, that is right… she and her husband are close personal friends and regularly vacation with my accuser (Cpt. Todd Fasulo). Now it is Deputy Chief Todd Fasulo and Deputy Chief Kevin McMahill… both ‘living large’ off the Metro! Check their ‘buddy boys’ picture through Google or Facebook.
I don’t think anyone can say that Doug Gillespie can’t at least try to change the culture of the LMVPD. This is desperately needed and it will involve the sheriff starting to embrace different (non-SWAT) opinions and even some dissent. I lost my job because of my opinions and my recommendations and my ‘evil’ dissent against the current culture… Police leaders will not be successful if they only receive positive information and are praised by adoring subordinates and the media. It is just as important to hear what is wrong, to listen to criticism, and to not create an environment of fear and intimidation.
Sheriff Doug Gillespie CAN CONTROL this, but he has not and it does not look like the culture will change until a new sheriff arrives in town! Find me a handful of employees currently employed by the LVMPD who feel ‘safe’ in giving negative information to Sheriff Gillespie or criticizing him and I’ll be very surprised. This is why so much information is circulated through ‘unofficial channels’ …if you take a stand and the sheriff and his ‘boys’ don’t like it, you will face consequences! You might just find yourself receiving a TRUTHFULNESS TERMINATION and have your career destroyed… Thank goodness we have the freedom to speak out and have an opinion somewhere –as in the Las Vegas Tribune — so we can still tell our stories in the USA!
Norm Jahn is a former LVMPD lieutenant, who has also served as a police chief in Shawano, Wisconsin, and has nearly 25 years of continuous police experience. Jahn now contributes his opinions and ideas to help improve policing in general, and in Las Vegas in particular, through his weekly column in the Las Vegas Tribune.