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Former sheriff says department needs to ‘make some changes’

The Metropolitan Police Department needs to take action following an agency record 12 fatal officer-involved shootings so far this year, former Clark County Sheriff Bill Young said Thursday.

"Metro should take it upon itself to take a critical look inside and make some changes and improve some training and some tactics and, quite frankly, change its culture a little bit," Young told local public radio station KNPR-FM, 88.9. "I know (Sheriff Doug Gillespie) is an individual who will do the right thing."

While repeatedly praising the department and its leadership, Young, who was sheriff from 2003 to 2007, called the high number of shootings by officers "one chink in Metro’s armor."

Young’s comments came a few days after the fatal shooting of Stanley Gibson, 43, a disabled war veteran who was unarmed in his car and disoriented when police arrived at a northwest Las Vegas apartment complex to investigate a possible burglary.

The former sheriff, who is now head of security for Station Casinos Inc., said that shooting exposed problems that need fixing, including when officers deploy AR-15 rifles, the weapon used against Gibson.

"It was totally inappropriate, absolutely wrong for an officer to have a long gun at that close a distance aimed at an individual who was apparently mentally distraught in a car and was unarmed," Young said.

Gibson’s death and a recent Review-Journal series on the rising number of shootings by Las Vegas police prompted the ACLU and NAACP earlier this week to call for the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the department’s use of deadly force. Gillespie on Thursday said he would support a federal probe.

Young had mixed feelings about such an investigation because they don’t always bring positive results.

Young saved his harshest words in the radio interview for the Las Vegas police union, an organization he said has used its power to impede the department from disciplining problem officers.

"I don’t think they get it," Young said. "I don’t think they get this community. I think they’ve isolated themselves and projected an arrogance."

Chris Collins, executive director of the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, rejected Young’s criticism.

"It’s very convenient for Bill Young, who is no longer employed by the department, to go out and say officers today aren’t entitled to the same rights that he enjoyed as a police officer," Collins said. "If he thought the system was so broken, why didn’t he demand change when he was sheriff?"

Young also blamed the union for "sabotaging" the coroner’s inquest system, another allegation that Collins rejected.

Looking ahead, Young said he hopes Las Vegas police find solutions that reduce the number of officer-involved shootings.

"There has to be trust in the police department and its effectiveness in this community, or everybody fails," he said. "The current sheriff is a good leader. I have every faith in him."

Alan Maimon is a Review-Journal special correspondent.

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