The man wearing a blue-gray uniform and a gold star badge pounded on the front door. He appeared to be with a law enforcement agency, so the girls, 11 and 19, opened up.
The man asked questions about a vehicle with a California license plate that had been in the driveway a while ago. It belonged to relatives who were visiting for a family reunion. Then he inquired about the vehicle with a Texas plate in the driveway. It’s registered to a relative who was deployed to Iraq a few months ago.
Both vehicles had been at the house for a total of five days. The man behind the badge apparently never identified which agency he was with and did not leave a business card.
The next day, Misty Olmos frantically called the valley’s law enforcement agencies to find out who had scared her 11-year-old daughter and her 19-year-old cousin, who lives out of state but was babysitting while Olmos was out on a school field trip with her son.
Dispatchers with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department told her no one had gone to the house and she should file a police report because “it sounds suspicious.” They also told her to call the Nevada Highway Patrol or the Las Vegas marshals. Those agencies wear blue, and that’s the only detail Olmos said her daughter could remember, and the cousin had returned to Texas at that point. NHP said it dispatches officers only in hit-and-run cases. Las Vegas marshals said they don’t have the manpower to send officers out.
Olmos called her HOA. It was someone there who pointed out the incident sounded a lot like the Las Vegas Township Constable’s “Pay Your Fair Share” program that made headlines almost a year ago. She called the offices and found out there was an ongoing investigation into the house she lives in at the southwest edge of the valley.
“They got my brother-in-law’s name,” Olmos said. “They didn’t come to the house asking for me or my husband. There was no way they could see they’re residents in California? We can all Google. Now, my brother-in-law doesn’t want to come visit us. We can’t promise him that someone’s not going to come to the house.”
Sgt. Mike Beckett with the constable’s office said deputies always identify themselves to people.
“It seems odd that someone could be this freaked out and still open the door,” Beckett said. “At some point, they looked out the door and saw the uniform and felt it was safe enough to open the door. If they didn’t identify themselves, I don’t know why they didn’t ask, ‘Who are you?’ or ‘Let me see your identification.’ “
As for whether the two young women could recognize they had the option of demanding identification from the lawman, Beckett said everyone can and should ask if they aren’t sure.
Constable deputies recently changed to black uniforms.
“Anybody who doesn’t exercise that avenue of making an officer identify themselves, some of that responsibility falls on that person, so the citizen can feel some comfort and relax a little bit and know they won’t be taken advantage of,” he added.
As part of the program, the constable’s office investigates complaints from a hot line established 10 months ago to collect information about potential lawbreakers and their out-of-state plates. New residents are required by state law to obtain their Nevada driver’s license within 30 days and to register their vehicles within 60 days. When complaints are received, the constable’s office conducts background checks using assessor records, social networking websites, a Lexus Nexus database that provides extensive personal information and DMV data to confirm residency.
“People need to understand law enforcement isn’t perfect,” Beckett said. “The tools we use for background checks aren’t perfect. We get as close as we can with the best information we can because it’s an intrusion into somebody’s life. If we don’t, it’s a waste of time for deputies to go out on complaints we haven’t looked into.”
Olmos said her vehicles are registered in the state.
“There’s got to be some more homework done before people start getting knocks on their door,” Olmos said. “To me, it’s like a snitch — somebody who has no life and starts calling. The intentions are trying to help the city, but in reality, it’s a waste of manpower unless they have some kind of proof. It probably wouldn’t be that big of an inconvenience if I had a business card and they didn’t scare the kids.
“I think it could work if they did their homework, but people who don’t do anything wrong get harassed like this and have a case number on them? I don’t own that house; I rent that house. So now, I had to go and tell the owners there’s a case number on the property. I don’t even know what the ramifications are if this doesn’t get solved.”
Those who violate vehicle registration laws in the township, which includes the city of Las Vegas and much of unincorporated Clark County, including Indian Springs and Mount Charleston, face a maximum $1,000 fine, plus a $100 constable fee. A judge can reduce the fine to $200 if violators can show proof of registration at the time of their hearings. The $100 constable fee must be paid before the vehicle can be registered at the DMV. More than $211,000 has been collected since the program’s inception. Deputies have issued about 2,200 citations, which resulted in about 1,500 vehicles being registered.
Beckett said no citation was issued to Olmos or her relatives.
“There are going to be times when we go out that people feel that intrusion, and some people are sensitive to what they perceive to be being treated like a criminal,” Beckett said. “An officer shows up on their doorstep and asks them a bunch of questions; if I wasn’t doing this job, it may bother me. We try to be as sensitive as we can to the way people feel about officers coming to their doorstep. We’re going to step on some toes. That’s the nature of what this business is.”
Contact Downtown and North Las Vegas View reporter Kristi Jourdan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 383-0492.