What exactly would it take for the Department of Justice to launch an investigation into the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department? That’s the question both the ACLU and the NAACP are asking themselves following the DOJ’s announcement last week that it would first enlist the services of a “best practices” review by the federal Community Oriented Policing Services program, with no guarantee that an investigation would follow.
The ACLU and NAACP point to a November Las Vegas Review-Journal study that found 142 deaths from 378 officer-involved shootings since 1990, including the June 2010 slaying of Trevon Cole, for which his family recently received a $1.7 million settlement. And those numbers are already growing—in December, Gulf War veteran Stanley Gibson was fatally shot by a Metro officer while sitting in his car.
Clark County Sheriff Douglas Gillespie says he welcomes a DOJ investigation. So what’s the holdup? For starters, it’s a question of manpower. The DOJ is currently investigating 17 other police departments nationwide, more than at any time in the division’s history, according to Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez. That list includes police departments in New Orleans, Miami, Portland, Seattle and Puerto Rico, along with sheriff’s offices in California’s Antelope Valley, Arizona’s Maricopa County and Florida’s Escambia County.
“The department receives thousands of requests, and the department must prioritize based on the seriousness of the allegations, number of allegations, steps the department is taking to address the allegations and the history of the department,” says the Justice Department’s Xochitl Hinojosa.
In addition, the DOJ investigates far more than excessive force allegations. According to its website, all DOJ “patterns and practice” investigations look not only at excessive force, but also false arrests, search and seizure issues and racial or ethnic discrimination.
Finally, it’s a matter of which fire to extinguish first. Consider these findings of the DOJ’s investigation of the Puerto Rico Police Department, which it classified as “an agency in profound disrepair.” More than 1,700 officers were arrested over a five-year period for everything from rape to drug trafficking and murder, and PRPD officers had conducted multiple unconstitutional searches of homes without a warrant, used excessive force against those of Dominican descent and failed to investigate allegations of sex crimes and domestic violence.
Eventually, Las Vegas could wind up on a short list for investigation, but if the criteria is anywhere near Puerto Rico’s, it’s not difficult to see why the wait might take a lot longer than we’d like.