A nonprofit organization has completed its review of police operations in Henderson, and its final report heaps praise on the department while devoting little attention to incidents that have sparked controversy in the community.
The Henderson City Council voted unanimously in June to pay $80,000 to the International City/County Management Association, based in Washington, D.C., to perform an independent analysis of police services. The same organization recently completed a study of Las Vegas Fire Department operations.
The 140-page report, full of diagrams and tables, was completed in December.
“After a thorough analysis of the Henderson Police Department, it is ICMA’s contention that it is a highly effective organization,” according to the report. “The current leaders enjoy the respect of the rank-and-file officers. Officers of all ranks presented themselves as professionals who are eager to provide outstanding service to the Henderson community. The department also is organized expertly.”
The glowing report paints a picture of a police force that takes a “small-town approach” to serving residents in Nevada’s second largest city, devoting more time and more officers to each call than similar police agencies. The document notes that Henderson’s crime rate has decreased over the past 10 years despite its dramatic population growth.
Also included in the report are 14 major recommendations, many of which are aimed at improving efficiency. Among the suggestions:
■ Explore alternatives to the current shift schedule to create a schedule better aligned with service demands.
■ Ensure a watch commander, in the rank of lieutenant, is present on each patrol shift to supervise patrol operations for the city.
■ Consolidate traffic unit operations and adjust schedules to provide better coverage.
■ Stop staffing the desk officer position with a sworn officer.
■ Require the internal affairs bureau to report directly to the chief of police.
■ Implement educational requirements for hiring and promotion.
“I think the city’s going to get its money’s worth and more from the implementation of the recommendations,” City Manager Jacob Snow said.
The report acknowledges that the newly appointed city manager reached out to the organization “in the wake of several incidents” involving Henderson police officers and the community. But the study notes “negative interactions between the police and the public are bound to occur.”
“The important issue, however, is not whether incidents occur, but rather what the department may have done to facilitate the incidents and, more importantly, how the department responded,” according to the document.
Snow, who was appointed in April, said the study team was asked “to pay particular attention” to the department’s training and use-of-force policies.
Snow said he was surprised the report contained only about one page addressing the department’s use-of-force policy.
“I was expecting to see more in that area,” the city manager said.
The report describes the department’s training function as “second to none in contemporary law enforcement” and its use-of-force policy as well-developed and well-implemented.
“ICMA believes that the organization is structured to prevent negative interactions with the public and minimize their impact,” according to the document. “The HPD has the operational philosophy in place to deliver high-quality service to the Henderson community and respond appropriately when negative incidents do occur.”
The Henderson Police Department also asked the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada to review its use-of-force policy. That organization’s 33-page report, also completed in December, was less favorable. It included the following conclusions:
■ In contrast to the policies of many law enforcement agencies around the nation, the Henderson police policy “fails to emphasize the importance of human life above the use of force through the use of caveats.”
■ The policy “does not provide officers with specific and adequate definitions and directives on the proper use of force.”
■ The department’s failure to provide its officers with adequate definitions and directives “may lead officers to use force inappropriately and excessively.”
The civil rights group made recommendations to improve the policy and ensure the department “comports with national standards regarding the prevention, evaluation, and management of excessive use of force.”
A department spokesman said the training unit is currently reviewing and considering each of the recommendations.
Last year, Snow selected Patrick Moers, a 21-year veteran of the Henderson Police Department, as the agency’s new chief. The City Council ratified Moers’ appointment in July.
At the time, Snow said he thought the department was “ripe for a culture change.”
Snow also said he wanted the management association’s report to serve as a road map for the new chief.
The report makes note of “a great deal of uncertainty in the agency,” including the changes a new chief may bring.
During an interview last week, Moers said he “was quite pleased” with the results and noted that the department already has implemented several recommendations and is evaluating the others.
Moers said members of the study team spent months reviewing the department’s policies and data, although they spent only about two weeks in Henderson.
“If I have one regret, it’s not having them stay out here even longer to see all the good work that everybody does throughout the organization,” he said.
Moers replaced Jutta Chambers, who retired in the wake of publicity surrounding a police beating recorded by a Nevada Highway Patrol trooper’s dashboard camera.
The beating occurred about 4 a.m. on Oct. 29, 2010, when Adam Greene was pulled over for erratic driving. Law enforcement personnel thought they had a drunken driver on their hands, but Greene had gone into diabetic shock.
Greene’s lawyer released the video to the media on Feb. 7, sparking public outrage. It showed Henderson police Sgt. Brett Seekatz repeatedly kicking Greene in the head after the motorist was taken to the ground by multiple officers.
In February, the city settled a lawsuit with Greene for $158,500. The city attorney’s office earlier agreed to pay his wife $99,000, a sum that did not require City Council approval. The Highway Patrol paid the family $35,000.
Seekatz was disciplined but not terminated, demoted or charged with a crime.
Snow described the incident as “painful for everybody” involved.
The Review-Journal recently learned a federal grand jury has been secretly reviewing the incident for months.
In September 2009, the Henderson City Council approved a $700,000 settlement with the family of Deshira Selimaj, an ice cream truck driver who was shot and killed by a police officer in front of her husband and two children.
The shooting occurred on Feb. 12, 2008, after Deshira Selimaj drove her ice cream truck to Sunridge Heights and Pecos Ridge parkways to help a patrol officer communicate with her Albanian-born husband.
Zyber Selimaj had been pulled over in his ice cream truck for minor traffic violations. Police said his wife brandished a knife after arriving at the scene with two of their three children.
Officer Luke Morrison shot the 42-year-old mother after she raised a knife in the direction of another officer, police said.
A coroner’s inquest jury later ruled the shooting justified.
In December 2004, the city agreed to pay $350,000 to an 86-year-old man whose ribs and hip were broken during his arrest by Henderson police.
Earlier that year, the City Council approved a $224,000 settlement with a 37-year-old woman whose eyes were damaged after two police officers pepper-sprayed her and left her handcuffed to a bench in a holding room at Green Valley Ranch. The two officers were later fired.
The analysis of Henderson police operations did not address any specific incidents.
According to the report, “The HPD training bureau operates in a highly effective manner and is on the leading edge of police training for similarly sized agencies. The training programs it delivers are based on the latest legal, technological, and educational developments and best practices.”
HIGHER RESPONSE TIME
With a population of about 268,000, Henderson is the second largest city in Nevada. Yet, according to the report, its crime rate is low compared with other cities in Nevada and across the nation.
Henderson police were dispatched to more than 167,000 calls for service in 2011. The report indicates patrol units took 37 minutes on average to handle each call, longer than the average of 30 minutes for similar police agencies.
The Police Department dispatches an average of two officers to each call, and that “is higher than policing norms of about 1.6 officers per call,” according to the report.
In addition, the response time for Henderson police averaged 18.4 minutes.
“This is higher than many communities of similar size and above the generally accepted target response time of 15 minutes per call,” according to the report.
A slow “dispatch time,” the time from when a call is received to when it is assigned a unit, could be to blame. The study determined Henderson’s dispatch time, which averages around 10 minutes a call, is high.
“It is recommended that the Henderson Police Department further examine dispatch procedures to understand the dynamic behind the relatively long dispatch time,” according to the report.
“Taken together, our analysis of occupied time, numbers of officers per call, and response time shows an efficient deployment of patrol officers to calls for service in Henderson.”
The report includes data on the department’s “clearance rate” for various crimes. The clearance rate was calculated by comparing the total number of cases received by the agency with the number of cases cleared.
Data show that clearance rates in Henderson exceed national rates, except in the categories of rape and auto theft. The report specifically notes that the department “lags behind in the clearance of auto thefts.”
Henderson police cleared only 3 percent of their auto theft cases in 2011. The national clearance rate for auto thefts in 2010 was 11.8 percent.
Moers said the department has successfully focused on preventing auto thefts. He noted that 1,453 automobiles were stolen in Henderson in 2005, while only 428 were stolen in 2011.
He also said the Clark County district attorney’s office often chooses to charge a suspect with possession of a stolen vehicle, rather than auto theft.
“Our DA won’t prosecute people unless they know you stole the car,” Moers said.
The city’s patrol operations are organized into three divisions. Each has three, 10-hour shifts of patrol officers responsible for handling calls for service.
The report suggests evaluating the overlapping schedules that create an abundance of officers at certain times.
Henderson employs about 340 police and corrections officers and about 60 supervisors.
The report recommends the department immediately alter its structure to make the internal affairs bureau a “direct report” to the chief.
“It must be clear that the IAB is of critical importance to the department and its mission. If the IAB is not perceived in this manner, overall morale will suffer and the effectiveness of this unit will be limited,” according to the report.
According to the document, the bureau reports to the deputy chief of support, who also recommends discipline.
According to the report, the current organizational structure “conveys a subtle message” that the internal affairs function is of lesser importance than that of the public information officer or department attorney, both of whom report directly to the chief.
Moers said more people are involved in recommending discipline now, but he is continuing to evaluate the recommendation that the internal affairs bureau report directly to him.
“I want to be fair and impartial without having an appearance of having steered the investigation,” he said.
Starting next year, Moers will begin implementing new educational requirements for supervisors.
By 2018, all sergeants will be required to have an associate’s degree, and everyone with a higher rank will be required to have a bachelor’s degree.
“We need to be perceived as a professional organization, and obviously education is a very key piece of that puzzle,” the chief said.
Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at email@example.com or 702-384-8710.