The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada today presented the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department with written recommendations for changes in its use-of-force policy.

Today’s communication follows a March 21, 2012 meeting between the ACLU of Nevada, Sheriff Doug Gillespie and other Metro officials, the NAACP of Las Vegas, and new Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson, at which the ACLU of Nevada presented Metro with a preliminary draft of its recommendations during a long and wide-ranging meeting.

“Metro expressed interest in reading and talking about our recommendations and confirmed that it has also gone through multiple drafts of a potential new use-of-force policy,” said Dane S. Claussen, Executive Director of the ACLU of Nevada. “We look forward to continuing to work with Metro in constructive and cooperative ways.”

Overall, the ACLU of Nevada’s recommendations concluded, “In contrast to many police departments and law enforcement agencies around the nation, the LVMPD’s Use of Force Policy fails to emphasize the importance of human life above the use of force”; “The LVMPD’s Use of Force Policy does not provide officers with specific and adequate directives on the proper use of force”; and “LVMPD’s failure to provide its officers with adequate directives may lead officers to use force inappropriately and excessively.”

The proposed revisions start with an analysis of the “introduction” section of Metro’s current policy, recommending that a new Mission Statement include “(1) LVMPD’s basic doctrine on the use of force; (2) a directive stating that that the sanctity of human life is above the use of force; and (3) the consequences of an officer’s violation of the Policy including individual consequences (i.e. officer discipline, termination, and/or prosecution) and community ramifications (i.e. unreasonable use of force degrades the confidence of the community).”

The ACLU of Nevada recommended today that Metro’s definition of “deadly force” be expanded and clarified to include impact weapons, carotid holds, low lethality shotguns, and use of electronic control devices, among other measures. The ACLU of Nevada recommended that Metro’s definition of “reasonable force” be revised to be more restrictive and more closely aligned with the U.S. Supreme Court’s in Graham v. Connor (490 U.S. 386 [1989]), and that its “Statement of Authority” section include 12 criteria to be weighed in using “reasonable force” rather than Metro’s current three. This will make use of force decisions more objective and less subjective, the ACLU of Nevada and various other U.S. police departments believe.

The ACLU of Nevada’s memo “recommends that the LVMPD include specific directives that require officers to: (1) modify their use of force based on the level of ‘re-sistance’; and (2) de-escalate the situation once the threat of resistance has dissipated. Furthermore, the LVMPD should include specific policies for officers who are confronted with persons who appear to be resisting arrest because of a physical or mental condition, drug or alcohol impairment, or a language barrier.”

The ACLU of Nevada “recommends that the LVMPD revised the Policy’s fleeing felon rule to require officers to use deadly force only if all reasonable alternatives appear impracticable and the officer reasonably believes that the use of deadly force is necessary.”

The ACLU of Nevada recommended that the Metro add to current policies prohibitions on using weapons in the following circumstances: “Discharging a firearm into a crowd. Discharging a firearm in a felony case that does not involve an actual attack, but involves a threatened attack, unless the member has an objectively reasonable cause to believe the threatened attack is imminent and could result in death or serious bodily injury. Discharging a firearm in any misdemeanor offense, unless under exceptional circumstances. Discharging a firearm solely to protect property interests. Discharging a firearm to stop an individual on mere suspicion of a crime simply because the individual runs away.”

The ACLU of Nevada also recommended that:

  • LVMPD officers draw or exhibit their weapons only when, and no longer than, necessary; 
  • Any discharge of a LVMPD firearm be reported immediately;
  • LVMPD consolidate and reorganize its policies on “Authorized Non-Deadly Force Tools/Restraints” and “Authorized and Required Tools, Restraints, Techniques and Procedures”;
  • LVMPD change its policies on batons and other impact weapons to be like the Denver Police Department’s;
  • LVMPD change its policy on the use of K-9s; and 
  • LVMPD change its policy on low-lethality weapons.

All of the ACLU of Nevada’s proposed revisions are explained in great detail in today’s memo to Metro.

The ACLU of Nevada’s memo was primarily written by Legal Intern Franz Espanol, working with Legal Director Staci Pratt, General Counsel Allen Lichtenstein, and Executive Director Dane S. Claussen. All four attended last Wednesday’s meeting with Metro, the NAACP of Las Vegas, and District Attorney Steve Wolfson.

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