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Q-and-A with Clark County sheriff’s candidate Joe Lombardo

Las Vegas police Assistant Sheriff Joe Lombardo, 52, is currently outgoing Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie’s right-hand man. Lombardo is also Gillespie’s pick to replace him in next month’s election.

But if Lombardo wants to win, he’ll have to go through popular retired Capt. Larry Burns. He has significantly outraised and outspent Burns, but polls say the race is tight.

The Review-Journal recently sat down with Lombardo to get his opinion on topics such as the More Cops sales tax to pay for officers, the militarization of police, keeping the Strip safe and deadly-force reforms.

R-J: Let’s start with the More Cops sales tax. Do you go back to the Clark County commission again, seeing how they’ve rejected proposals to increase the tax rate several times already?

Lombardo: No. … Before, we filled (the budget deficit) with existing (employee) vacancies and the (More Cops) end-fund balance. So over the last four or five, six years we filled it with that, we were able to balance the budget, and working with the city and the county, they would supplement us with some additional funds. But now we’ve been drawing down on the More Cops reserve, and we don’t have end-fund balance anymore.

R-J: So what’s the long-term funding plan if you can’t rely on More Cops?

Lombardo: The initial push is for the city and the county to increase their funding to the police department so the budget is balanced. We have to establish a foundational amount through the city and county that balances our budget before we even ask for the taxpayers to contribute more.

R-J: Bryan Yant shot and killed Trevon Cole in 2010 in one of the valley’s most controversial police shootings in years. Gillespie promised to keep Yant behind a desk the rest of Yant’s career, but Gillespie won’t have a say much longer. Would you put Yant back in a uniformed police assignment?

Lombardo: I don’t foresee that. Every employee in any organization is entitled to due process, but management has the authority or ability to determine where they do work. And operations still is a management right. … The community, you know, even Bryan himself would not be served appropriately if he was to go back to uniformed work. … Does he create an environment where he puts other officers in peril because he hesitates? Or he puts himself in peril because he hesitates? Or he puts the community in peril because he hesitates? And that’s probably part of the reason he pushed to go to the union, where he wouldn’t put himself in that position.

R-J: Recently retired Lt. Gawain Guedry made waves after he accused Metro of burying his internal audit of the department’s air unit, and he asked the district attorney to review whether any laws were broken. His report was allegedly very critical of Metro’s administration. How much credibility do you give Guedry?

Lombardo: I give it a lot of credibility in the fact that they came back with several recommendations to improve the unit, and that’s what we’re doing.Nothing was manipulated in that report. The core of the report was the recommendations on how to make the unit better, and those things are moving forward. Where the controversy is, there was a lot of subjective narrative associated with individuals, and that wasn’t the intent of the report.

R-J: Were you one of the individuals named in the report?

Lombardo: Yeah. The fact I was a lieutenant in the unit is the reason why I’m listed. … I haven’t been associated with that unit for, I don’t know, 11 years?

R-J: When you were promoted to captain and chief, though, were you in charge of the unit?

Lombardo: Some aspects. Not as a captain, but as a chief. There are several levels of the chain of command. When (Guedry’s) report was kicked off and initiated, I was not in that chain of command. … When you do an official document associated with the department, it goes through a review process. That report was still in the draft process when the decision was made not to release the subjective portion of it, where he personally attacked people’s personalities and their work history and work production, and things like that. And that was not the intent of the report.

R-J: You’ve been in the middle of deadly-force reforms at the department for several years now, and last year you took over for Ted Moody as chairman of the Use of Force Review Board after he retired. Although the Department of Justice oversaw Metro’s reforms, there was no consent decree. A new sheriff can reverse course. What’s your plan for ensuring that those changes stick? (Note: Shortly after this interview, Moody endorsed Lombardo, citing Lombardo’s commitment to deadly-force reforms.)

Lombardo: One of the most important ways is being open and transparent, and communication. You can’t put up a wall around police work and say, “We know how to do it, and that’s how we’re going to do it.” You have to receive information from your special interest groups. You’ve got to receive information from your legal community.

R-J: How do you make sure that information is implemented into policy?

Lombardo: We have the Office of Internal Oversight, which is a product of all of this and adds that check and balance. And here’s the other thing — even the decisions that came out of the 9th Circuit were never reviewed and put in place on a regular basis. Now we have a separate committee in place that meets on a quarterly basis; they review all the current case law and implement that into our policies.

R-J: Sheriff Gillespie fired Jesus Arevalo for the 2011 fatal killing of Stanley Gibson. But he saved the job of another officer, Jacquar Roston, who shot Lawrence Gordon in 2012 after mistaking the shine on Gordon’s hat for a gun. Gibson was killed, Gordon survived, but both were unarmed. The Use of Force Review Board recommended both officers be fired, but Gillespie had the ultimate authority. Would you have made the same decision as Gillespie?

Lombardo: Arevalo? Yeah. … And I would have made the same decision that he did with Roston. They’re two completely different issues. … Roston was on an event, by himself, in the middle of the night. And he had a perceived threat that he took action on. He didn’t have all the support of all these other police officers. There was a recommendation made as a result of the Use of Force Review Board, for his termination, and part of that was because of Roston.

R-J: His attitude?

Lombardo: His attitude, and how he presented himself, and how he explained himself. Outside of that, you go to the pre-term board. That’s where you can bring in everything associated with Roston. His previous work product, his work history, what he did before he became a cop, what he did while he was a cop, whether he had previous discipline. And whether he’s going to be a successful officer in the future — if he can be one — if he’s provided training …

R-J: What do you say to people that believe the sheriff has allowed the police unions to influence department policy? For example, last year Commissioner Steve Sisolak raised questions about Metro and the Police Protective Association’s contract negotiations during arbitration. (Note: Sisolak has since endorsed Lombardo.)

Lombardo: If you were to ask Sisolak now, I don’t think he would come forward with that. I was the head negotiator. And I’m here to tell you right now: We did not collude. You’ve heard Mr. Moody say that the county attorney said it was an unlawful act. Well, if it was unlawful and it was determined to be unlawful, why wasn’t it pursued and why was the eventual conclusion of the arbitration adopted? It was because it wasn’t unlawful.

R-J: What went wrong with that arbitration?

Lombardo: One, the offer wasn’t written. It should have been written. It was verbal offers by both sides that were in separate rooms that did not collude together, done through the attorneys. And two, the arbitrator’s award did not define the financial impact. So, I mandated he issue a supplemental award in which he addressed both issues. Granted, you live and learn and you rely on some of the expertise in the room.

R-J: There were errors, but nothing was done intentionally?

Lombardo: We took them to arbitration to fight it. … What’s the answer in the future? One, it will never happen again. Two is, should the whole procedure be transparent, out in the public? I say yeah… If they want to sit there and listen to that mind-numbing testimony for three days, let them hear it.

R-J: Let’s talk Cliven Bundy. How do you handle him if you’re sheriff? A lot of people want to see accountability for what happened during the standoff on his ranch.

Lombardo: There’s a separation of authority associated with that. There’s the authority of the sheriff of Clark County to enforce county-enacted laws, versus federal laws. … When you have a federal agency that is taking on the responsibility of those crimes, it’s incumbent upon that agency to hold people accountable. We will support those (agencies) and ensure officer safety. And ensure that Cliven Bundy, or anybody like Cliven Bundy, has the ability to obtain due process.

R-J: What’s the timeline for that process? It’s been months.

Lombardo: The feds are currently conducting an investigation associated with that and I anticipate they will levy charges against Mr. Bundy and a plethora of other people and they will hold them accountable for that. Now how they go about enforcing that accountability, that’s going to be up for discussion and we’re going to be part of that conversation.

R-J: The Strip is the lifeblood of Las Vegas, and on weekends and for big events, Metro pulls officers from the neighborhoods and puts extra help on Las Vegas Boulevard. Are you satisfied with how Metro is policing the Strip?

Lombardo: No. For two reasons. Because we’re supplementing manpower via overtime. And that’s not a good long-term solution. We need to supplement manpower via our normal budget. … We’re pulling resources from where you live to ensure that we protect our economy. Which is proper, in some aspects. Some people may argue the other fact that, “Hey, I live over here and there was a burglary …” Here’s the other way we do it. We ask for individual casinos to fund individual officers to present a presence out in front of their property. Is that a long-term solution? No.

R-J: So what’s the solution?

Lombardo: I’m going to pursue an enterprise fund associated directly for the Strip where we can fund police officers.

R-J: And you’ll approach the casinos with this?

Lombardo: No, that’s more of a Convention and Visitors Authority and county function. …

R-J: The county hasn’t gone out of their way to fund Metro’s budget requests already. Do you think they’ll go for it?

Lombardo: I think I have a good relationship with those folks, and I think we’ll have to communicate our way through it. The bottom line is they live here. They’re responsible for that Strip area. If there’s issues associated with the Strip, does it fall all on the police department? With everybody knowing that we have diminished resources? No, it falls on everybody’s back, not just ours.

Contact Mike Blasky at mblasky@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0283. Find him on Twitter: @blasky.

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