Controversial incidents and deadly officer-involved confrontations have plagued the Metropolitan Police Department in recent months but the agency retains the confidence of most Clark County voters, with 59 percent of respondents in a new Las Vegas Review-Journal/8NewsNow poll saying it does a good or excellent job.
The poll was conducted this week, days after a coroner's inquest jury found Las Vegas police officer Bryan Yant was justified in fatally shooting Trevon Cole during a drug raid. An inquest is scheduled next month in the death of Erik Scott, who was shot in July by three officers outside a Summerlin Costco store.
Brad Coker, who ran the random-sample survey for Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, said approval ratings for police agencies generally hover in the mid-60s, though the recent public outcry over the shootings could have pulled down the department's numbers.
"It's a positive rating, but it's a little below average," Coker said.
Maggie McLetchie, with the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, said the poll numbers show a sizable chunk of locals don't think highly of the agency.
"At first blush it seems like it's positive, but in reality, 40 percent of the public views Metro's performance as poor or fair, which I don't think is positive," she said.
Of the 405 registered county voters who participated in the poll, 30 percent said the department's performance was fair and 10 percent rated it poor. The poll had a 5 percentage point margin of error.
McLetchie said most Las Vegas police officers are doing the right thing, but her office has been "suddenly hearing a lot more concerns about Metro's performance."
Sheriff Doug Gillespie said he focuses on the negative numbers during polling -- in this case the 10 percent who picked poor -- because "that's truly the percentage of the population that doesn't believe you're doing a good job.''
He said the 10 percent "poor" rating is about what he would expect for any police department.
"I don't see that as being a bad number," he said.
In the poll, Republicans had the highest opinion of the Police Department, with 71 percent calling its performance excellent or good. Democrats had the lowest with 50 percent, and independents split the difference with 59 percent.
Many in the public have criticized Gillespie and his department during a string of high-profile incidents that began 15 months ago with the death of police officer James Manor.
He was driving more than 100 mph on Flamingo Road to a call when his patrol car smashed a pickup that turned left into its path. Gillespie initially said the car's lights and sirens were on, and the pickup driver was arrested on a drunken driving charge.
Investigators later determined the car's lights and sirens were not activated and all charges were dropped against the driver, who received a $120,000 settlement from the department.
In June, Cole was killed when Yant's narcotics squad raided his apartment after buying $840 of marijuana from him. Cole was unarmed, but Yant said he fired when Cole raised his arms like he had a gun in a darkened bathroom.
A month later, three Las Vegas police officers shot and killed Scott as he walked from the Costco following a confrontation with store employees. The employees reported that Scott was armed with a handgun and acting erratically.
Police said Scott, who had a concealed weapon permit and carried two pistols, pulled a gun from his waistband in front of the officers, prompting them to fire. Witness accounts differ on that point.
When he attends speaking engagements and community meetings, Gillespie said he gets many questions from concerned citizens about recent incidents and the inquest process. The questions are probing but not antagonistic, he said.
"I don't get the feeling when I'm engaged with the community that it's an anti-Metro feeling," Gillespie said.
He will continue to make public appearances, saying it's important to remain accessible to the public during difficult times for his agency.
"I'm not going to hide. Nor is my organization," he said.
Contact reporter Brian Haynes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0281.