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3 notable changes since Sheriff Joseph Lombardo took office

A new sheriff inevitably means changes to the Metropolitan Police Department.

Under Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo, changes came quickly.

Most of the department's detectives now have different job descriptions. Substations that were closed to the public because of funding concerns have been reopened. And police shootings have dropped, while violent crime continues to rise.

The sheriff sat down to speak with the Review-Journal this past week.

DETECTIVE DECENTRALIZATION

Probably the biggest change since the start of the Lombardo regime Jan. 4 was finalized just more than a week ago.

On July 18, his plan to decentralize operations for about 150 detectives formally started.

With the shift, detectives who worked in specialized units, such as robbery, domestic violence, drugs and gangs, were filtered out and now staff each of Metro's eight area commands throughout the Las Vegas Valley. Each area command has about 24 detectives, Lombardo said.

But the way it was, Lombardo said, it took on average 12½ days after a crime was reported for a detective to review the case file for the first time.

That, the sheriff said, needed to change.

It's evidence-based, he said.

Metro has experimented with the idea before, when the agency decentralized property crimes detectives, who typically handle crimes such as home burglaries.

Before pushing those detectives out to area commands, the department solved about 33 percent of property crimes, Lombardo said. Since the change, it has jumped to about 45 percent.

By pushing the detectives out to handle smaller geographical areas, Lombardo said he hopes to cut that time in half.

Under the old system, most detectives worked out of Metro headquarters, at 400. S. Martin Luther King Blvd. Some units, such as homicide, sexual assault and crimes against youth and family, will remain centralized. Those investigations tend to be more forensics-based, while those that have been decentralized are more "human-based," he said, utilizing informants and interviews more often.

But another reason also initiated the change.

"In years past, crooks were specialized," Lombardo said. "We've really seen that change over the last five to 10 years. Now they're poly-criminals."

To keep up, Lombardo said, his detectives need to have multiple areas of expertise too.

"We're limiting ourselves if we stay specialized and the criminals are not," he said.

MORE OFFICERS

When the Clark County Commission approved a $539 million Metro budget for 2015-16, it meant two things for the department: more cops and the ability to reopen four area commands that had been closed to the public.

Those area commands — Bolden, 1851 Stella Lake St.; South Central, 4860 Las Vegas Blvd. South; Southeast, 3675 E. Harmon Ave.; and Downtown, 621 N. Ninth St. — were closed in previous years because of a lack of funding that forced layoffs at the civilian employee level.

But with the $28 million bigger budget for this year, 46 civilian positions were added, allowing Metro to restaff and reopen those front desks. Residents now can file police reports in person at those locations.

With those civilian employees, Metro was able to hire 55 new officers.

That can help Las Vegas police push back a slight uptick in violent crimes.

This year, violent crime — which includes homicides, sex assaults, assaults with a deadly weapon and robberies — has gone up 2 percent overall compared with last year.

Assaults with a deadly weapon saw the biggest jump, about 12.5 percent, according to Metro crime statistics.

Lombardo said he simply needs more officers if he is going to bring that number down.

Even with the new officers, Metro's officer to resident ratio, hovering at 1.74 officers per thousand residents, is far below where Lombardo would like to see it.

Lombardo said he would like to see the department get back to what he considers the standard, which is at least two officers per thousand residents.

OFFICER-INVOLVED SHOOTINGS

Going the opposite way of violent crime, Metro's officer-involved-shooting numbers have plummeted this year, with just six compared with 11 at the same point last year.

A big reason for the drop, Lombardo said, is that the enhanced emphasis on de-escalation "is really hitting home now."

"There's never not going to be officer-involved shootings," he said. "We have to look at it as 'was it necessary?' instead of 'was it justified?'"

And while the sheriff understands that even the current number of police shootings can change seemingly overnight, that hasn't stopped him from praising what he says is the progress his department has made.

"I'm very proud of our officer-involved-shooting numbers," Lombardo said.

Contact reporter Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4638. Find him on Twitter: @ColtonLochhead.

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