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Skepticism greets Nevada bill to shield internal police reviews

Updated April 2, 2019 - 1:45 pm

CARSON CITY – A bill that would limit public disclosure of internal police reviews of critical incidents such as officer-involved shootings ran into a skeptical Senate committee Tuesday, with lawmakers saying that, at a minimum, they want changes to ensure access to information needed by prosecutors or potential litigants.

Senate Bill 294, sponsored by Sen. Yvanna Cancela, D-Las Vegas, on behalf of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, would not restrict disclosure of an agency’s criminal probe of a police shooting, supporters told the Senate Judiciary Committee. The final internal report on an incident, conducted concurrently with the criminal probe to review and potentially improve procedures, also would continue to be made public.

What agencies want to protect are discussions, interviews and recommendations that are not part of the final report, police representatives told the committee. That added confidentiality would encourage more candor and cooperation from officers questioned as part of the review, they said.

“This bill is not about hiding information from the public or being less transparent,” said Chuck Callaway, representing Metro. “If we don’t have a candid discussion and review we won’t get cooperation and we can’t improve as an agency.”

Members of the committee, which includes lawyers and prosecutors, were not swayed by supporters’ arguments. Besides limiting public disclosure, Sen. Melanie Scheible, D-Las Vegas, a Clark County deputy district attorney, said the new provisions could interfere with prosecutors’ responsibility to provide exculpatory evidence to defendants in a trial.

“If there’s a wall between the prosecutor and the law enforcement agency, we wouldn’t be able to faithfully discharge that duty and provide any information,” she said.

Representatives of police unions and state district attorneys backed the bill, which Cancela presented with amendments that clarified and limited what material would be restricted. Opposition came from the Nevada Press Association, public defenders, criminal defense lawyers and the ACLU. Opponents said less transparency would undermine confidence in both police agencies and their internal review process.

“If Metro is looking for opportunities to improve policies in a way that will decrease officer involved shootings, we’re more than happy to help with that,” said the ACLU’s Holly Wellborn. “But providing a new privilege and a new veil of secrecy is certainly not the way to do that.”

Sponsors said they would work to address objections to the bill.

Contact Bill Dentzer at bdentzer@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-0661. Follow @DentzerNews on Twitter.

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