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ACLU offers recommendations on Las Vegas police use of force policies

The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada on Monday released a 62-page list of recommendations on how Las Vegas police can improve their use of force policies, including those governing the use of firearms.

The study compared the Metropolitan Police Department’s policies with those of six other police departments, including those in Los Angeles, Denver and Washington, D.C.

The authors found the following:

■ Unlike other departments, the Las Vegas policy "fails to emphasize the importance of human life above the use of force."

■ The department’s policies don’t provide officers with "specific and adequate directives on the proper use of force."

■ The department’s "failure to provide its officers with adequate directives may lead officers to use force inappropriately and excessively."

ACLU officials gave an early draft of the study to the department last week and the final draft on Monday, Executive Director Dane Claussen said.

"We were very pleased by how receptive they were," he said.

Sheriff Doug Gillespie said late Monday that the department plans to comment on the study today.

Las Vegas police are in the middle of a six -month study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Justice looking into how and when its officers use deadly force, and the department is also looking to change its policies.

The Justice Department study — sought by two local civil rights groups after the high-profile police shooting in December of military veteran Stanley Gibson and the 2011 publication of a Las Vegas Review-Journal series on deadly force — will conclude with a public report and a list of recommendations.

Policies are the bedrock of a police organization, and studies by experts have identified policy changes as a way to reduce incidents of police shootings.

The ACLU’s report was the first of several the organization plans to produce on topics relating to police use of force. Claussen said they also plan on looking at the department’s use of force reporting procedures.

The organization looked at the "best practices" of other police departments.

Some of the recommendations were a matter of clarifying language. The Las Vegas department’s policy states an officer can use deadly force if the officer fears for his or her life or the lives of others. The ACLU recommends changing that by removing the word "fear" and bringing it more in line with the U.S. Supreme Court’s definition for when police should shoot. Officers should use deadly force when they "reasonably believe" their life or the lives of others are in jeopardy, the ACLU recommends.

Other recommendations fill holes in the Las Vegas department’s policies. Las Vegas police should add a policy requiring officers to report each time they draw and point a firearm at someone, like their counterparts in Washington, D.C. Las Vegas police should also add a policy instructing officers to de-escalate encounters with people when possible, like their counterparts in Denver.

At the beginning of its policy, the department should include a statement "requiring officers to value the sanctity of human life," the ACLU recommends. The department has no such language, whereas Los Angeles police policy states its "guiding value when using force shall be reverence for human life."

In 2010, the much larger LAPD had 34 shootings, while Las Vegas police had 25 that year. Both departments killed the same number of people that year: eight.

Claussen said he thinks the policy changes, paired with changes in training, could reduce the number of shootings by Las Vegas police. Its officers have shot at people four times this year. Last year the department had 17 shootings, including 12 that were fatal.

Contact reporter Lawrence Mower at lmower@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0440.

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