Sheriff candidate: Department needs to trust officers

If you ask Tony McCleery, the leaders at Las Vegas police have lost the faith of their officers and the citizens they serve.

The retired officer is running for Clark County sheriff next year in the hope he can reestablish the department’s credibility. That starts with the department’s management trusting its officers, he said.

“If you’re going to be in leadership, you have to back your officers,” McCleery said. “That’s my main goal as sheriff.”

The 57-year-old spent about 20 years patrolling Las Vegas, the majority as a motorcycle traffic officer. He took a medical disability retirement last year after an April 2011 crash ended his career as a street cop.

A drunk driver slammed into him as he stood next to his motorcycle, nearly killing him. In addition to suffering from a back, shoulder and skull injury, his kneecap was detached and an artery in his leg was severed.

McCleery knew he wouldn’t be an effective officer on the street, and wasn’t interested in pushing paper behind a desk in some menial position.

McCleery was content with retirement, but Sheriff Doug Gillespie’s decision to step away caused him to reconsider his future. The next sheriff can’t be one of Gillespie’s clones, he said.

“It can’t be the same as always,” he said. “I wasn’t looking forward to running for sheriff, but because of the circumstances there had to be a change.”

For starters, McCleery believes the department’s efforts to reduce or “control” police shootings is an exercise in futility. Officers can only react to the situation they are given, he said.

“How can you control something like that? Can anybody predict with the next situation, the John Q or John Bad, decides to take matters into their own hands, pull a weapon and place it in front of the officer? Indiscriminately saying you’re controlling an OIS makes it sound like we’re out of control. And that’s not true.”

McCleery has two children who work at the department, as do his children’s spouses. He is worried about their safety, along with the safety of his many friends at the department.

The new emphasis on “deescalation” could cause an officer to hesitate and result in the officer’s death, he said. Officers now worry their decisions will be unfairly second-guessed.

“They (the patrol officers) wonder, ‘Is the department going to have my back if something does happen?’ And right now, the answer is no.”

The former officer is also against the changes to the department’s internal Use of Force Review Board, a panel of civilians and officers that reviews police shootings and other uses of force. Once considered a rubber-stamp, the new board has recommended the firings of two officers in the last year.

And he is against changes to the former Clark County coroner’s inquest that resulted in a new fact-finding review process.

“I’m not for the coroner’s inquest. I’m not sold. I’m not for transparency. What has it done for us? The gap between Metro and the civilians is so huge that there’s no trust. The civilians don’t trust us, the public. And the officers? They don’t trust the department, but they also don’t see how the citizens are going to be in our favor.

“And I wouldn’t have a civilian review board. Name me another organization that does? Do firefighters? Do lawyers? Doctors? Why is it expected of police officers? If an officer is doing something wrong, it will come out. Just give me the opportunity to investigate it fully.”

McCleery’s ideas contrast with the recommended national “best practices” of police shootings that Gillespie and the Department of Justice have worked to implement. But McCleery’s opinions also don’t come without experience.

He has been on both sides of a police shooting. McCleery was one of the 14 officers involved in the shootout with Harry “H-bomb” Kondiles in 2001. Kondiles was shot more than 20 times, but survived.

But the shooting that still stings McCleery happened long before he was an officer.

His brother, Timmy McCleery, was killed by an officer with the Bakersfield Police Department in 1979 after the officer mistook the shine from his brother’s belt buckle for a gun.

“I know what it’s like to lose someone at the hands of law enforcement,” he said. “I also know that the officers at Metro are the best-trained officers in the world.”

McCleery acknowledges that he doesn’t have the rank or experience as some of his competitors, such as former Assistant Sheriff Ted Moody or Capt. Larry Burns. McCleery is the sixth candidate to announce his candidacy.

If the voters don’t choose to elect him, he suggested Burns as an alternative.

“I think Larry Burns will be the next sheriff. He’s everything we’re looking for.”

Contact reporter Mike Blasky at mblasky@reviewjournal.com. Follow @blasky on Twitter.

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