Despite changes, Las Vegas police argue traffic stop data collection bill would cost millions

A group of recently graduated police officer sits on stage.

A bill 18 years in the making would require state law enforcement agencies to collect and analyze traffic stop data, but Las Vegas police say the measure would cost them millions of dollars. 

The Senate Finance Committee on Monday heard Sen. Dallas Harris’ (D-Las Vegas) bill SB236, which would also establish an early warning system for finding police officers who display “bias indicators,” a concept that first came up during the 2003 legislative session.  

The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) at first indicated that the bill would cost the agency an estimated $22.6 million for the biennium to implement, but Harris said the agency informally, through emails, had submitted an updated fiscal note that would bring down that amount to about $7 million after the bill was amended to only include traffic stops, not all kinds of stops. All other police agencies that had submitted fiscal notes on the bill withdrew them after the amendment was adopted.

Chuck Callaway, a lobbyist with LVMPD, said that the agency supports the policy behind the bill and that it understands the importance of gathering data. LVMPD’s fiscal note only shows the cost of officers potentially working overtime as a result of filling out the required forms to input the data after traffic stops. Callaway said the agency expects the data input to average 15 minutes per stop which would result in 314,695 work hours per year.

LVMPD is not suggesting hiring new officers to make up the difference in time or coverage. Callaway said that LVMPD’s chief financial officer estimated that if the bill was passed, the agency would need to hire 43 officers at a cost of $5 million to maintain current staffing ratios.

“Everything that an officer is doing, we have a limited time during the day, and our main focus is handling calls for service, reducing crime, when people call the police they expect an officer to respond in a timely manner,” he said. “And if an officer is taken an extra 15 minutes on a car stop to fill out a data card...that makes our response time longer, and decreases an officer's ability to engage in other proactive activity.”

But Harris said she does not believe the amount of time it would take the officer to fill out the data would affect the job and the time to do other tasks or respond to calls of service. 

“It could be a minute where they were in rest, waiting to catch someone, that is that additional minute that they're taking. It's not necessarily going to have to take away from them doing something else,” she said. 

Harris also said she has gone “through pains” to work with the Department of Public Safety, which oversees agencies such as the Nevada Highway Patrol, to ensure the traffic stop data collection system could be at the state level so each police jurisdiction would not have to create its own system and the data could be centralized.

The committee did not vote on the measure during the meeting.

Editor’s Note: This story first appeared in Behind the Bar, The Nevada Independent’s newsletter dedicated to comprehensive coverage of the 2021 Legislature. Sign up for the newsletter here.

Former DETR head opens up about the threats she received during hearing on anti-doxxing bill

Heather Korbulic helmed the state’s Department Employment, Training and Rehabilitation during some of the pandemic’s darkest days last spring.

Thousands of Nevadans, who were thrust essentially overnight onto the state’s overwhelmed unemployment system as Nevada shuttered its economy in the early days of the pandemic, called Korbulic directly, desperate for relief as they struggled to navigate the claims system. Those Nevadans, she said, shared “equally compelling stories of desperation and fear.”

A small percentage, however, targeted their frustrations directly at Korbulic, and an even smaller percentage of those decided to “harass or threaten” her “with, at the very least, intent to scare” her, Korbulic told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday during a hearing on AB296, a bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen (D-Las Vegas) that would create civil penalties for people who post people’s personal identifying or sensitive information online with the intent that that information be used for an unlawful purpose, otherwise known as doxxing. 

It was the first time Korbulic — who left DETR in June — has spoken publicly about the personal toll of the threats she received.

“I'm here today doing something I didn't want to do because I really believe in what Assemblywoman Nguyen is putting forward in Assembly Bill 296,” Korbulic said. “No one under any circumstance should be made to feel the way that my family and I felt when people were using my personally identifiable information to threaten and harass me.”

The bill would hold people liable for sharing such information if it causes death, bodily injury, stalking or mental anguish of the person or a close relation of the person whose information was shared, or would cause a “reasonable person” to feel mental anguish or fear any those consequences.

After the first legitimate threat to Korbulic’s safety, a law enforcement officer spent the night parked in front of her house while her husband and children were out of town. When neighbors asked her what was happening, she told them about the threat and asked them to keep an eye out for any suspicious activity.

“I went inside and I called my husband and I sobbed and I told him I was done because I couldn’t live like this,” Korbulic testified through tears. “He told me that I was stronger than the people who were threatening me and that he would cut short his trip and come home and install a security system.”

When her family came home, the kids were banned from playing in the front yard unsupervised because Korbulic was afraid that someone would kidnap them. The fear, she said, confused her children, who were angry with her over the new rule.

A few weeks later, in the middle of a meeting with lawmakers, someone posted Korbulic’s personal cell phone number on Facebook. She said that within a matter of minutes, she had more than 100 calls, and her voicemail box filled up with “hateful messages.” The calls were coming in so quickly she couldn’t even get through to Verizon to change her number.

“I sat down and I wept at my desk and I decided that I could no longer tolerate putting my family in this position and that I could not and would not live in fear for simply trying to do my job,” Korbulic said.

In June, Korbulic stepped down from the position, over what was described at the time generally as “threats to her personal safety” and returned to her previous job as executive director of the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange. She is currently serving as a policy advisor to Gov. Steve Sisolak.

During the Monday hearing, there was some discussion over a section of the bill exempting the sharing of information “which depicts a law enforcement officer acting under the color of law or a public officer acting in an official capacity” from punishment. Sen. Keith Pickard (R-Henderson) voiced a concern that the language would mean the people who threatened Korbulic would not be subject to penalties under the bill, and that the legislation could even invite people to dox police officers.

Lobbyists for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and the Nevada Sheriffs’ and Chiefs’ Association testified against the bill for that very reason, arguing that it unnecessarily exempts officers from protection. (Metro lobbyist Chuck Callaway also suggested that criminal penalties for doxxing, which were included in an earlier draft of the bill but were amended out, be left in.)

Bill proponents and legislative counsel, however, clarified that the bill would apply to a public official or police officer who is at home, after hours and being harassed. Legal counsel added that existing law currently prohibits the sharing of law enforcement officers’ home addresses or personal information that is confidential by statute.

Editor’s Note: This story first appeared in Behind the Bar, The Nevada Independent’s newsletter dedicated to comprehensive coverage of the 2021 Legislature. Sign up for the newsletter here.

Assembly committee advances bill to limit police collaboration with immigration enforcement officials

Clark County Detention Center

A legislative committee voted on party lines Wednesday to limit local police cooperation with federal immigration authorities after hearing stories of families affected by deportations, including a 13-year-old boy who became suicidal during his father’s monthslong stay in immigration detention.

The Assembly Government Affairs Committee voted 8-5 to advance AB376, sponsored by Assemblywoman Selena Torres (D-Las Vegas), which — among other things — bars law enforcement from detaining a person at the request of immigration authorities unless there is a warrant for that person and requires police to warn people that their answers to questions about their birthplace could be used against them in deportation proceedings.

“Federal government agencies should not be allowed to commandeer our state's scarce public safety resources,” Torres said. “Studies also show that misuse of local resources for federal immigration enforcement has a negative effect on reporting for both victims and witnesses of crime.”

The bill, which also declares that it is not the primary purpose of local law enforcement to enforce civil federal immigration law, is part of a long struggle between immigrant advocates and police agencies over practices such as jails holding inmates longer than they otherwise would in order to give immigration officials a chance to take custody of them. 

While some agencies have dropped formal 287(g) partnerships with the federal government, activists say less-formal collaboration still happens and can turn arrests for minor infractions into life-altering, family-splitting deportations.

That’s what Jennifer Antonio testified happened to her husband, an undocumented immigrant, in August 2019. She said her then-11-year-old son Ethan has ADHD and tried to run away during a behavioral episode; when her husband grabbed the boy’s jacket to stop him, someone called the police and both the boy and her husband were arrested.

The boy was released to his mother shortly after, but Antonio’s husband was detained for nine months and authorities said she could not bail him out because he was on an immigration hold. With less supervision, Ethan started acting out, becoming depressed and even attempting suicide.

“My father got out of immigration three days before my birthday, and that was the best present that I could have ever had,” Ethan testified. “Now he is home, and I feel better, but we still live in fear that they will come for my father. Please stop taking people from their families. It’s not right.”

Opponents, however, questioned whether the bill would prevent authorities from catching dangerous criminals who have violated immigration laws. Assemblywoman Annie Black (R-Mesquite) pointed to a news article about the arrest of two Yemeni men apprehended by the Border Patrol who had been on a terror watch list and asked if the bill would prevent local police from helping bring them into custody. 

“There's nothing preventing ICE from doing their job,” Torres replied. “Additionally, in the legislation it's abundantly clear that if there is a federal warrant, they can still detain those individuals and they would be transferred into ICE custody.”

The bill would bar state and local law enforcement from using agency money or personnel to investigate, question or arrest people for immigration enforcement purposes, and specifies that police should not detain someone solely for the purpose of determining their immigration status. It also bars local agencies from allowing federal immigration officials to question inmates in local custody about noncriminal matters unless the interview is voluntary or backed by a court order.

Police agencies opposed the bill, raising a litany of issues with the language. Chuck Callaway, lobbyist for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, said that asking arrestees about their birthplace is legitimate because police have to notify certain countries such as China and Saudi Arabia when their citizens are arrested. 

He said the measure also would prevent jail personnel from answering questions from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) about when an inmate was going to be released if federal authorities wanted to detain someone exiting the jail. Eric Spratley of the Nevada Sheriffs and Chiefs Association added that the Miranda rights-style disclosure the bill requires to alert inmates that any answers they provide could be used for immigration enforcement will make inmates distrustful. 

“It will make people we are coming in contact with feel like we are now partnered for immigration purposes, and further widen this racial divide that law enforcement is actively trying to repair,” he said.

Members of the public opposing the bill said it would give Nevada a reputation as a “sanctuary state” that could repel tourists and invite crime.

“Bills like AB376 invite people to break our laws at the expense of our most vulnerable Nevada citizens,” Nevada Republican Party Chairman Michael McDonald said in written comments. “The United States of America is a land of laws and we ask that this committee respect our country enough to abide by the existing laws already in place.”

But supporters argued that striking a clearer divide between local police and federal immigration enforcement officers would build trust and create a safer community. Liz Ortenburger, CEO of the nonprofit Safe Nest dedicated to victims of domestic violence, said fear of deportation prevents victims from calling the police or seeking a restraining order.

“We also see in the eyes of many of our victims the fear of being deported and taken away from their children, and leaving their children unsupervised at the hands of a batterer,” she said. “All of this creates more abuse, more cycles, more traumatized children, and more generational violence in our community.”

Education advocates testified that the bill could ease anxiety among children with undocumented parents and help them focus on school. The bill specifically prevents school police from inquiring about or collecting information about a person’s immigration status or birthplace.

Sylvia Lazos, a professor at UNLV’s Boyd School of Law, noted that close to half of the students in the Clark County School District have one or more immigrant parents, and some of those are undocumented.

“When a parent is deported, the children who are left behind are traumatized, not knowing why their parents abandoned them, fearful that no one will take care for them,” she wrote. “Exactly what is the Southern Nevada community gaining from such policies?” 

A less controversial element of the bill, which was dubbed the Keep Nevada Working Act, establishes a task force affiliated with the lieutenant governor’s office and the Office for New Americans that would explore ways to attract and retain immigrant-owned businesses. The group would conduct research and submit recommendations to the Legislature about developing small businesses and maintaining stability in the agricultural workforce, which is made up predominantly of immigrants.  

“Creating the task force will assist our state in continuing to attract and retain a talented workforce, including entrepreneurs and small businesses, to create jobs and prosperity,” said Lt. Gov. Kate Marshall, a Democrat.

The hearing and vote were the first steps for the bill, which now heads to the Assembly for a possible vote.

Tracking traffic stop data, ‘bias indicators’ for officers lauded by criminal justice reform groups, but questioned by law enforcement unions

In 2003, Nevada lawmakers headed into session with their hands on a troubling new data analysis — Black and Hispanic drivers in Nevada were statistically more likely to be pulled over for traffic stops than white motorists.

The report — which analyzed nearly 400,000 traffic stops statewide — resulted in legislation from then-state Sen. Dina Titus (D-Las Vegas) to require police to attend racial sensitivity training and continue collecting data on traffic stops as an attempt to stem any ongoing racial bias issue in traffic stops. 

That legislation was opposed by police groups and ultimately failed to advance out of committee. But nearly two decades later, the issue hasn’t gone away.

Many of the same arguments from 2003 reappeared on Wednesday during a Senate Judiciary committee hearing on SB236, a bill introduced by Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas) that would re-start data collection and analysis on traffic stops, and require police departments to implement a system of tracking “bias indicators” for individual officers.

Harris referenced the 2003 study in her testimony on the bill, saying it was important for lawmakers to follow up on the now-decades old report and take action if racial disparities in traffic stops still exist.

“It's imperative that the Legislature take another look at this in an aggregate sense and get some statistical analysis done on whether these biases exist in traffic stops or not, so that we can actually address if there's a problem, and if there is, figure out the best way to solve it,” she said.

SB236 has two primary functions. The first would require every law enforcement agency in the state to establish an early warning system for finding police officers who display “bias indicators” — including having a large number of citizen complaints, being involved in a large number of use of force incidents, making a large number of arrests for resisting an officer or arrests that don’t result in filed charges or having a “negative attitude” toward programs aimed at boosting community and police relations, according to the bill text.

If an officer is tagged for displaying bias indicators, SB236 would require the police agency to increase supervision of the officer and offer additional training or counseling. If that officer is “repeatedly identified” by the system, the agency “shall consider the consequences that should be imposed,” including transfers or discipline.

Harris compared the system to a Doppler weather radar, saying that like the weather forecast, bias indicators may not be an exact prediction, but can prepare law enforcement for the potential of a “catastrophic event.”

“We want to help leaders identify potential problems and to intervene so that these problems do not become catastrophic,” she said.

The second part of the bill would require the state’s Department of Public Safety to begin developing a standardized method for use by all police agencies in the state as to how to record traffic stop information, including the race, age, and gender of the person stopped and any police action taken — such as a warning, citation or search.

It would require that information be transmitted annually to the state starting in 2023, and “to the extent that money is available,” contract with a third party to conduct a statistical analysis of the data for the purpose of “identifying patterns or practices of profiling.” 

The original version of the bill would have required police officers to have at least an associate’s degree or two years of military service, and would have placed limits on qualified immunity — a legal provision protecting law enforcement from civil lawsuits unless officials “clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Both of those provisions were removed under a conceptual amendment submitted by Harris ahead of the hearing.

Sen. Ira Hansen (R-Sparks) questioned how the bias indicator tracking system envisioned in the bill would work, saying that most examples of illegal driving came from young males regardless of racial background.

“When cops are pulling people over, and we're seeing that disproportionality among races and in gender, did anyone ever consider that it might be the fact that those people are the ones that are committing a disproportionate share of the crimes?” he said.

Harris pointed back to the 2001 survey, saying that the disparity between Black drivers and traffic stops had a strong statistical basis.

“Yes, we've considered it, and I do not believe there is any evidence that African Americans are more likely to speed in the same manner that there is evidence that males are more likely to speed, hence the higher insurance rate for males,” she said.

The bill was supported by a wide range of criminal justice reform advocates, from the ACLU of Nevada to libertarian-leaning Americans for Prosperity. Many shared stories of past examples of police violence; the niece of Byron Williams, a Black man killed in police custody in Las Vegas after saying “I can’t breathe” two dozen times, testified in favor of the bill.

“There's nothing radical nor unreasonable in this bill,” Mass Liberation Project lead organizer Leslie Turner said. “This is actually the bare minimum, data collection and transparency.”

The bill even attracted support from some police unions.

“It will require further dialogue with the law enforcement agencies to develop those policies,” Executive Director of the Nevada Association of Public Safety Officers Rick McCann said. “You know, dialogue is not a bad thing. We need more of it, quite frankly. Statistical analysis is not a bad thing.”

But the Las Vegas Police Protective Association — the union representing Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department rank and file officers and the largest police union in the state — testified in opposition to the bill, saying many of the measure’s supporters were from anti-police groups that supported the abolition of police unions.

LVPPA representative John Abel said the union hadn’t been in contact with Harris about the bill, and could potentially be in support of the legislation if it was shown that officers did not have any “newly added paperwork or documentation” for the measure. He suggested that other support from other police unions, such as NAPSO, wasn’t reflective of how most police in the state felt about the issue.

“These two groups should denounce this legislation as I know their members probably aren't supportive of their union,” he said.

Metro police lobbyist Chuck Callaway said the agency was opposed to the bill, but was working with Harris on amendments that move the state’s largest police force to the neutral position. Metro filed a fiscal note estimating an annual $22 million cost to implement the bill, but Harris said the agency would be able to use existing data collection systems and not require them to find new software.

Still, Callaway bristled at some of the comments made by bill supporters.

“In regards to some of the testimony that was made during the hearing, I kind of take a bit of offense to the term ‘police violence,’” he said. “Police officers are out doing a very difficult job on a daily basis, and they react to the actions of suspects and people that they encounter on calls and on stops during the course of their duties.”

Sen. Melanie Schieble (D-Las Vegas) said she understood why law enforcement may have an emotional response to suggestions of implicit bias — saying that she had in the past been accused of “pretty much racism” in online and real-world spheres, an experience she called “emotional and jarring.”

But she said the purpose of SB236 was not punitive, and in fact represented one of the lightest approaches possible to deal with implicit bias.

“You're not calling people out on Twitter, you're not putting them on the record in a court of law, you're not posting a list in their front lobby,” Scheible said. “You are privately talking to one officer with actual data to say ‘Hey, we noticed that over the last six months, these 10 things happened...and you might not know this, but that's not normal. I can't think of a lighter touch for an officer than that one on one conversation.”

Proponents of decriminalizing traffic tickets in Nevada hope that fifth try is the charm

A police officer stands at the scene of a traffic accident.

For at least the fifth session in a row, Nevada lawmakers are looking to decriminalize traffic tickets — an action proponents say would move the state away from the vestiges of a Victorian-era debtor’s prison but that local governments continue to oppose because of how it might affect their budgets.

Minor traffic offenses are considered criminal misdemeanors that — if unpaid — escalate to warrants that can lead to arrest and are punishable by up to six months in jail. AB116 — a bill that Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen (D-Las Vegas) presented Thursday in the Assembly Judiciary Committee — would make them civil infractions and not punishable by jail time that can lead to job losses and other ills. 

“It is a reality many Nevadans face — a simple $400 traffic ticket can have a serious adverse effect on a person's life,” said Alex Wong, a youth legislator who helped present the bill. “Courts, in an effort to enforce the offense, may issue criminal warrants for these people. Many times, this provides a tragic introduction to the criminal justice system.”

About 270,000 traffic warrants were pending in the Las Vegas Justice Court alone at the start of the pandemic, when that court announced it would temporarily not be enforcing those warrants because of the health crisis.

While Nevada is one of just 13 states to categorize a traffic ticket as a criminal issue, efforts to downgrade it have failed in sessions dating back to at least 2013 and in spite of an interim study on the topic. This time around, however, prosecutors who were previously opposed have added their support, saying they’d prefer to devote their resources to prosecuting serious crimes rather than traffic cases.

“Of all the discussions that we've had about criminal justice reform, it seems we’ve ignored the most obvious candidate for reclassification, in terms of bill passage,” said John Jones of the Clark County district attorney’s office. “We're talking about a low level, minor traffic offense like speeding, having your tail light out. It surprises most people to learn they're committing a misdemeanor offense when they commit a traffic violation.”

Nguyen emphasized that the bill would still allow serious driving-related offenses, such as vehicular manslaughter or driving under the influence, to be prosecuted criminally. And the measure would maintain a system of “points” or demerits on someone’s driving record that can lead to a license suspension.

But Nguyen’s biggest challenge is likely to be local governments. Representatives from Carson City, Douglas, Lyon, Storey, Lincoln and Clark counties, as well as the cities of Las Vegas, Henderson Reno and Sparks, testified in opposition, citing budget concerns. The City of North Las Vegas testified in neutral.

“I am aware of ... the current funding structure and I don't want to disrupt that,” Nguyen said. “And so, while I may probably fundamentally disagree that we should be funding our courts and governments on the backs of traffic citations, I also recognize that and I'm flexible enough to know that I need to be realistic, I need to ... come up with pragmatic solutions for our local governments.”

Leisa Moseley of the Fines and Fees Justice Center said that in spite of public records requests, local governments have not offered a clear picture of how much money they make from fines off traffic tickets. But several submitted fiscal notes estimating how much it would cost them to implement the bill and lose the ability to jail people for failing to pay up. Clark County topped the list, estimating it would lose nearly $13 million a year by having to make the change, out of annual general fund revenues of about $1 billion.

Lincoln County District Attorney Dylan Frehner said that the pandemic had reduced the county’s collection of fines and fees to less than $100,000 instead of the budgeted $350,000, putting a major wrench in a county general fund budget of $4 million. He also testified how time-consuming it can be to collect civil fines from people.

“The impact that this is going to put on us, to change our systems to be able to do additional work, to go outside and try to collect these — it's going to make it very difficult on the county,” he said. 

But proponents of the bill question whether local governments are factoring in how much they would save by not sending traffic offenders through a criminal process. Public defender lobbyist John Piro said they needed to count time spent in jail, which is $190 per night at the Clark County Detention Center.

Also in opposition was Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department lobbyist Chuck Callaway, who said that while the general concept of decriminalization was “great,” he didn’t want it to change procedures for officers in the field.

“We all know traffic violations — minor traffic violations — often lead to major arrests,” he said. “Just a couple of examples of that are in the case of Warren Jeffs, the child rapist who was stopped for a temporary plate on his vehicle, Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber who was stopped with no license plate on his vehicle.”

In a tweet after the hearing, Nguyen pushed back on Callaway’s argument, saying that Jeffs was arrested on felony warrants for sex assault and that the police officer in the case would have still been able to stop the vehicle under the provisions of AB116.

Public commenter LaNiqua McCloud testified to the long-term consequences of the state’s current policy, saying she got arrested over a traffic ticket when she was six months pregnant and traveling to a high-risk pregnancy appointment. She was in jail for 17 hours before she was bailed out, and she said the experience has still held her back from certain opportunities in spite of having a bachelor’s and two master’s degrees.

Others spoke of how the practice disproportionately affects poorer Nevadans.

“We're not supposed to have debtors’ prisons in the United States. That's literally something out of a Charles Dickens novel,” said Jim Hoffman of Nevada Attorneys for Criminal Justice. “The idea that people should be locked up because they're too poor to pay is something that we as a society, firmly reject.”

Nguyen said she was hopeful that this year’s venture into making the change would be more successful. She said she’s counted 37 stakeholder meetings she had already had on the bill and has both progressive and conservative supporters.

“I'm proud to have a more diverse group of individuals and organizations’ support, and I think that's what's needed when you're taking on such, like, a monumental task,” she said.

Thursday was the bill’s first hearing, and the committee did not vote on the measure. Committee chairman Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas) said if the bill comes up for a committee vote, it would likely be amended from the current version; Nguyen said there are still active discussions about the structure of civil penalties for traffic violations and how that revenue should be disbursed.

Bill banning police ticket or arrest quotas embraced by unions, civil liberty groups

The official line from law enforcement is that ticket quotas don’t exist in Nevada.

But on Thursday, members of the Assembly Government Affairs committee were told a different story.

Even though quotas for tickets or arrests aren’t written down in official policy, representatives of police unions told lawmakers that many agencies still operate under a cultural assumption that the more tickets issued or more arrests made, the better.

“The belief is that an officer producing high numbers in these stats is a productive police officer and vice versa, one that is not producing in these areas is not productive,” Las Vegas Metro Police Managers and Supervisors Association vice chair Troyce Krumme said. “If policing were a Fortune 500 company, this belief would be accurate, but policing is not a Fortune 500 company dependent on profits to exist.”

The touchy subject of police quotas would be explicitly banned under AB186, a bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen (D-Las Vegas) and that attracted support from police unions and Republicans during its hearing on Thursday.

Nguyen said that while Nevada police agencies are adamant that quotas don’t exist in the state, the issue was more of a cultural one — meaning that it is easier for law enforcement to quantify things like tickets or arrests over “evidence-based policing practices” that result in more positive interactions between individuals and police.

“You can see some of the pervasive philosophy behind quotas still exists there, when you see police officers making arrests at a certain time of the month,” she said. “You can hear from supervisors and management that it is something that we have just become accustomed to in law enforcement to quantifying that number, because it is easy to quantify that number.”

The text of the bill is straightforward — it would prohibit police agencies in the state from ordering, mandating, or requiring officers to “issue a certain number of traffic citations or make a certain number of arrests over any period.” It also would prohibit agencies from considering the number of citations issued, arrests made, or amount of fines assessed from citations by any individual police officer during a performance review.

Supporters of the bill pointed to a handful of other states — Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Pennsylvania and Illinois — that have taken legislative action to ban or deter the use of quotas.

Nguyen did offer an amendment that would remove language prohibiting police agencies from suggesting that officers issue a certain number of citations or make a certain number of arrests. Backers of the bill said that change would preserve flexibility for supervisors without gutting the intent of the bill.

“I can assure anyone who has a question whether a supervisor can hold their people accountable to work productivity, in light of this bill passing, I can assure the committee that they can,” Krumme said. “They'll have to find new strategies, which is, I believe, the point of reform.”

The bill attracted a wide variety of support — ACLU of Nevada Policy Director Holly Welborn said the legislation would give civil rights organizations the “tools that we need to monitor law enforcement behavior,” pointing to an developing litigation in Rhode Island brought over similar language in that state’s law.

The libertarian-leaning Nevada Policy Research Institute also supported the proposed legislation, saying it evoked a similar issue raised with police abuse of civil asset forfeiture law.

“When police are incentivized, financially or otherwise, to locate potential criminal activity, it is lower income minority neighborhoods which suffer most,” NPRI lobbyist Daniel Honchariw said.

But police departments generally testified against the bill, saying that they were not supportive of quotas but didn’t want to be stripped of supervisory oversight of rank-and-file officers.

“The taxpayers are paying the salary for this officer and we expect them to work,” Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department lobbyist Chuck Callaway said. “Although we don't have a quota, and we're not telling them to write X number of tickets, a supervisor needs to be able to have that conversation with employees that they need to get out and address crime that is occurring. And often that requires citations to be written and it requires arrests to be made.”

Nguyen — who is also sponsoring a bill that would decriminalize traffic tickets —  said she was prepared to continue working with opponents of the bill, adding that the larger issue of over-policing wouldn’t be fixed with just one piece of legislation.

“Will this completely eliminate that? Probably not,” Nguyen said. “But I think it is a very good step in the right direction, in giving guidance on what our policy as a state to curb these negative, unnecessary, policing for profit interactions with our community.”

Lawmakers considering formation of a statewide human trafficking task force that could open access to federal grants

Lawmakers are considering forming a statewide task force on human trafficking that could open the door for new federal funding opportunities to aid trafficking survivors.

The bill that would require the Department of Health and Human Services to form the task force, AB143, also includes a provision for developing a statewide plan for the delivery of services to victims of human trafficking. Those services would include resources for medical care, housing and legal services, and the plan would also aim to develop strategies to increase awareness about human trafficking and the services available to survivors.

“Human trafficking has been described as a form of modern day slavery, impacting our most vulnerable population,” Assemblywoman Lisa Krasner (R-Reno) said during a legislative hearing on Tuesday. “And it is a serious problem in Nevada that warrants the full attention of state government.”

Krasner was unable to identify what federal grants would be available after the formation of the state task force, but funding could potentially come from the Crime Victims Fund, established by the Victims of Crime Act of 1984. The fund includes support for state-level services for trafficking survivors, including crisis intervention and counseling.

During the hearing, James Dold, founder of the non-profit Human Rights for Kids, told his own story of surviving human trafficking as a child living in Las Vegas. 

“I can't tell you how important it is to have a plan in place for the delivery of services and the identification of trafficking survivors,” Dold said. “By having a victim services plan … we are increasing the likelihood that that trust between the victim and law enforcement will be created, and that they will be able to participate meaningfully in the prosecution of their traffickers.”

The bill attracted a broad group of supporters, including the attorney general’s office, the Clark and Washoe County public defenders’ offices, Dignity Health St. Rose Dominican Hospital and the Nevada Women’s Lobby.

Krasner also pointed to the growing need for a state response to human trafficking, as more federal human trafficking cases were charged in Nevada last year than in any previous year, with seven prosecutions in 2020. An earlier study from UNLV found that Nevada tied for the ninth in the nation for most human trafficking cases in 2017. 

In 2019, there were 239 human trafficking incidents reported in Nevada, and of those, 200 involved sex trafficking, putting the rate of sex trafficking in the state far above the national average, according to data from the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

The only opposition to the bill came from Chuck Callaway, lobbyist for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, who voiced concerns that a statewide task force could interfere with local human trafficking task forces in Northern and Southern Nevada.

During a news conference on Tuesday after the hearing, Krasner said that a statewide task force could help address the issue in the rural areas of the state — and that there are federal funds that are only available to state-level task forces.

The amended version of the bill proposed by Krasner removes a projected price tag by making the services provided permissive rather than mandatory, which means services for survivors of human trafficking would be made available as the state receives federal funds or allocates tax dollars towards programs.

Callaway also voiced concerns that the bill does not specify who the members of the state task force would be.

During the hearing, Krasner said that the task force would be made up of “interested parties and stakeholders” and that the task force would allow stakeholders to collaborate on efforts to aid human trafficking survivors. 

She added that the decisions about how the task force is run would be left to the Division of Child and Family Services, and the amended version of the bill includes a provision for the division to designate a human trafficking specialist within the Nevada Victims of Crime Compensation Program.

Tuesday’s hearing marked the first discussion of the legislation. The Assembly Committee on Government Affairs did not hold a vote on the bill.

Behind the Bar: Big plans, less funding for state grants office, police changes after summer Black Lives Matter protests and Sisolak Promise Tracker update

Behind the Bar is The Nevada Independent’s newsletter devoted to comprehensive and accessible coverage of the 2021 Legislature. 

In this edition: major updates from state grants office initiatives, criminal justice updates, how Vegas police have changed policies after Black Lives Matter protests this summer, a Sisolak Promise Tracker update and some noteworthy numbers from the higher education system.

Check this link to manage your newsletter subscriptions. The newsletter is published on Mondays and Thursdays.

I want to hear from you! Questions, comments, observations, jokes, what you think we should be covering or paying attention to. Email me at rsnyder@thenvindy.com.


Gov. Steve Sisolak is running for re-election.

There hasn’t yet been a big formal launch for the Democratic governor’s re-election campaign (he confirmed re-election plans last year), but signs are starting to creep in — increased activity of a governor-aligned political action committee (Home Means Nevada PAC), going on publicized tours of facilities and buildings and generally touting a relatively apolitical agenda focused on economic development during the 2021 Legislature.

The commingling of Sisolak’s legislative agenda focused on efforts to help the state recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and political concerns with the upcoming re-election campaign are readily apparent in the quick processing of AB106 on Wednesday evening.

In a vacuum, the bill makes sense. It’s an extra $50 million to the Pandemic Emergency Technical Support grant program, which provides grants between $10,000 and $20,000 to small businesses, nonprofits and other applicable groups. 

The program initially received $51 million in federal coronavirus relief funds — AB106 adds another $50 million in state dollars to the program, which will be directed to unfulfilled applications submitted last year (more than 13,500 applications for the program were submitted last October, or about 10 times the initial funding available).

Pushing the bill through now follows up on Sisolak’s request for the same in the State of the State, and gets needed dollars to businesses as soon as possible (lawmakers could run into trouble with the constitutional requirement to fund K-12 education first if they delay program implementation into the upcoming fiscal year).

But to be clear, there is a political undercurrent to much of this. It’s why the bill is coming up during the second week of session, why Sisolak himself gave opening remarks and why a cadre of high-profile business leaders (including the Las Vegas Metro Chamber) all testified in favor of the measure.

It’s a safe bet that this bill will pass with bipartisan support, and probably make it to the governor’s office sometime next week (assuming lawmakers don’t fast-track the measure). I’d also expect Sisolak’s office and the governor himself to trumpet the additional program funding once the bill is signed. It also wouldn’t be surprising to see funding end up in re-election material down the road, either.

The marriage of Sisolak’s legislative agenda with political priorities will be a trend to watch over the remaining 110 days (ugh) of the session — how and if there are any divergences between plans to improve the state’s economy and what legislative “wins” the governor wants to run on in what’s likely to be a tough 2022 campaign.

— Riley Snyder

Legislators on the first day of the 81st session of the Legislature in Carson City on Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Funding axed for long-delayed grants management software project

It’s estimated that Nevada likely loses millions of dollars in potential federal grants every year because of the lack of a statewide grants management system.

But despite a promise by Gov. Steve Sisolak in his 2021 State of the State address to greatly increase the number of federal grants coming into the state, the state grants office is preparing to enter the next budget cycle without funding for a dedicated grants management system — an absence that a former grants advisory council chair said, “(delays) Nevada getting hundreds of millions of dollars a year in additional federal funding.”

During a presentation Tuesday before the Assembly Government Affairs Committee, interim grants office Administrator Erin Hasty said that the office’s long-held but oft-delayed plans to implement a grants management software program were essentially on ice amid the state’s budget crunch and questionable economic status amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lawmakers first allocated funding ($200,000 per year) for implementation of a grants system in the 2017 session — part of a state effort to improve its poor placing in the national ranking of states that bring in the largest shares of federal grant dollars. The recommendation came from a federal grants-focused panel formed in 2015, which found states higher on the national federal grant recipient rankings list tended to have some kind of central software to match grant opportunities with potential applicants (state or local agencies, businesses or nonprofits).

But the program never got off the ground. After the state awarded the contract bid, it was sued by an unsuccessful bidder, which claimed that the former head of the office had tipped the scales in favor of a preferred company. A District Court judge ruled against the state in May 2019, meaning the contract was reopened to potential bidding. 

While lawmakers in 2019 again allocated $200,000 per year to the office to fund a contract, the office said that despite filing multiple requests for proposal, no contractors had submitted a bid that would cover everything the office was looking for in such a software system.

“The bottom line is that vendors just could not provide an enterprise system with full functionality for the allotted budget,” the grants office’s website states.

Hasty said Tuesday that the office had instead filed a request for information in February 2020 to get a better sense of what kind of budgetary request they would need going forward to implement such a software system. But that request was pulled in April, given expected “unforeseen budgetary impacts” caused by the pandemic. 

“Unfortunately, we had that study lined up and ready to go, but then also due to COVID and the budget shortfalls we reverted that back as well,” she said.

Instead, the office will for the foreseeable future continue plugging along on its current system, previously described by the agency as the “ad hoc and complex” web of Excel spreadsheets currently in use by the agency to manage and oversee grants. The office’s website says the state will pursue funding for a grants management system once the state is “again on solid economic and budgetary footing.”

Sisolak — whose proposed budget otherwise keeps funding flat for the grants office over the two-year budget cycle — in his State of the State address called for the state to increase its share of federal grants by $100 million over the next two years and by $500 million annually by 2026.

— Riley Snyder

Matching grants pilot project a success, but no additional funding expected

The state grants office had a promising response to a pilot program approved in the 2019 Legislature, where the state allocated $1 million to be used for grants that require a state matching fund — a program aimed at capturing federal dollars otherwise left at the table because the state agency or business couldn’t put forward necessary matching funds.

Hasty said the office received 31 applications and committed $970,000 of the original million dollars within the first three months of the program (starting in January 2020), but stopped accepting applications in April 2020 under the assumption that remaining funds would be reverted back to the state’s general fund.

So far, only one matching grant — $45,129 to the North Las Vegas Fire Department — has been fully executed, with the fire department receiving a $451,292 grant from the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security. According to the office, the grants went to “replace 16 aging cardiac monitors to meet current standards and community need.”

Two other allocations of matching grants (worth a combined $925,049) were approved by lawmakers but still haven’t been notified if they’ll receive the corresponding federal grant dollars. 

The other two state-approved pending grant applications include:

  • A tribal government-backed grant to bring high-speed internet to farms and rural communities; state match of $855,000, with a federal match of $2.6 million.
  • A nonprofit organization to provide “human and family services,” with a state match of $70,000 and a federal grant of $210,000.

Under current law, the state share of those grants will revert back if the grants aren’t awarded by June 30 (the end of the fiscal year).

Assuming lawmakers don’t introduce a bill funding the program, it’ll close shop at the end of the fiscal year in July. But the grants office said in its report on the program that the brief experiment has potential for future success.

“With the...pilot program’s successful launch and three months of operation, the Grant Office believes it has showed that the pilot program could be a successful, permanent program if fully resourced and staffed,” the office wrote in the report.

— Riley Snyder

Vegas police discuss lessons learned from 318 protests in 2020

Las Vegas police say they updated policies on protests and civil unrest amid criticism over their handling of the Black Lives Matter protests over the summer. 

Chuck Callaway, a lobbyist for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, told the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Monday that the agency updated its use of force policies and protest protocol in 2020.

Those changes include placing a person in a recovery position when providing medical assistance (which ensures they are able to breathe), prohibiting the use of the lateral vascular neck restraint (LVNR), making crowd dispersal orders clearer and only deploying pepper spray into a crowd if approved by a commander. 

Callaway said in his presentation that many of the arrests from the Black Lives Matter protests were made for not following dispersal orders given after police declared the assembly unlawful for no longer being peaceful. The agency found that people couldn’t hear the order or did not know where to go, so it has adapted with a policy to give dispersal orders at multiple locations around the crowd and to provide an exit route for the crowd to follow. 

Callaway said that the agency had not expected Las Vegas’ protests to turn violent as they did in other cities. But among the peaceful majority, some attendees threw frozen water bottles, bricks and rocks at officers, leading to 45 officer injuries between May 29 and June 3. Remaining protests and gatherings through July 31 did not have any more injuries recorded. 

“There was a mindset that we had been working good with the community and had good community relationships … there are always ways we can improve but I think that we assumed that it wasn't going to happen in Las Vegas,” Callaway said. “But the vast majority of people that attended them were exercising their First Amendment rights and acting peacefully.” 

During 2020, LVMPD handled 318 protests. Eventually, the police agency made a greater effort to create a dialogue with protest organizers ahead of time, which Callaway said resulted in more peaceful marches and fewer incidents by “mitigating any bad apples” that might have later joined in with the protesters.

But sometimes protest leaders didn't want to communicate with the police because of lack of trust, Callaway said. 

“We learned a lot of lessons over the past year in regards to protests and civil unrest, and so we've created a new policy to help us do a better job,” he said.

Lawmakers have even more proposals intended to curb what critics see as overly aggressive policing during protests. Democratic Sen. Dallas Harris, for example, wants to include in the law restrictions on the use of rubber bullets and rules on giving sufficient warning before releasing pepper spray into a crowd.

— Jannelle Calderon

Eliminating racial bias in criminal justice

Southern Nevada prosecutors publicly acknowledged they believe implicit racial bias exists — a declaration that could ease the passage of bills to curb the effects of unconscious stereotypes in the criminal justice system.

Lawmakers this week introduced SB108, sponsored by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which would require “any person employed in the criminal justice system in this State to complete periodic training relating to implicit bias and cultural competency.” It would also require the attorney general to adopt regulations concerning that training.

The bill was also mentioned briefly in Tuesday’s Assembly Judiciary Committee meeting, when John Jones, chief Clark County deputy district attorney, said that his office does believe in the issue of implicit racial bias. Jones also said that his office has already received training on the issue and on understanding implicit bias.

During the meeting, Assemblywoman Shannon Bilbray-Axelrod (D-Las Vegas) brought up a blind charging system that could help mitigate the effects of implicit racial bias.

The system, created by the Stanford Computational Policy Lab, has been used by the San Francisco District Attorney’s office, and it works by way of redacting race-related information from the case narratives that district attorneys read before making charging decisions on incoming felony cases.

Implicit racial bias was also a hot topic in 2019 when the Legislature passed AB478, which requires police officers to complete annual training on topics including racial profiling, mental health and implicit bias recognition. Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) previously said that a state board overseeing officer training is not fully implementing the law, but the board’s executive director Mike Sherlock said that the board does ensure that individual agencies are complying with the objectives for each training topic.

 — Sean Golonka

By the numbers

Legislators in the Assembly Education Committee heard presentations Tuesday from two top higher education officials: system Chancellor Melody Rose and UNLV Medical School Dean Marc Kahn. Across those two presentations, a handful of numbers stuck out. 

24,000: The number of vaccinations administered by UNLV since the first two coronavirus vaccines were approved and shipped out by the federal government late last year. Kahn said his goal, as the vaccination process continues and a third vaccine candidate nears approval, is for UNLV to remain involved “until each and every eligible person in Southern Nevada is vaccinated for this potentially fatal disease.”

8 percent: The decline in enrollment across Nevada community colleges compared to the prior fall. Likely triggered by the continued widespread use of virtual learning in the wake of the COVID pandemic, Rose touted Nevada’s figures as positively robust compared to some other higher education systems that have been “slammed” by double-digit enrollment losses “upwards of 15 to 30 percent.” Rose said NSHE “very much expect[s] those folks to be back” once learning goes back to business-as-usual (a sentiment echoed by community college presidents in my conversations with them over the last week). 

2022: More precisely, late-summer or early fall 2022, about the time the new UNLV medical education building should be complete. In some stage of development for nearly half a decade, construction on the building finally began last year as part of a public-private partnership spearheaded by a private development corporation. The project will likely receive one last push from the state this session: a reinstatement of $25 million in once-cut state funding meant to cover what hasn’t been funded by private donors. 

56.9 percent: That’s the number of minority students at NSHE institutions (as of fall 2018, the date of the most recent federal data and the data presented to lawmakers). That number has risen steadily over the past decade, so much so that NSHE had become a majority-minority system by 2015. 

51,000: Number of community college students across Nevada, of which 57 percent are female and 58 percent are students of color. It’s nearly half of all NSHE students statewide, and it could also be the total number of affected students should lawmakers follow the governor’s lead on a proposed idea to create a new governance structure for the state’s four community colleges. 

— Jacob Solis

Sisolak Promise Tracker update

We’ve got an update on one (of the nearly 55) promises listed on our Sisolak Promise Tracker page.

During the 2018 campaign, Sisolak wrote in a Reno Gazette-Journal op-ed that if elected, he would “appoint experienced leaders from the private sector" to serve as economic development "ambassadors" for industries such as renewable energy, technology, manufacturing, logistics, mining and rural economic development.

“Deputy directors will be ambassadors to businesses seeking to locate and expand in Nevada, and they will be the primary liaison between my office and private sector companies in emerging industries,” the future governor wrote in the op-ed.

We’ve had that promise listed as “not addressed” since the 2019 Legislature, as there have been no public announcements regarding creation of any private-sector focused “deputy director” positions within the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED). Prior to the publication of our latest update of the promise tracker feature, we reached out to GOED to see if there had been any traction as it relates to that promise.

GOED got back to us a few days after publication of the update, and in a 284-word statement, made the case that the promise had been fulfilled through the hiring of GOED Director Michael Brown — the former head of Barrick Gold USA.

The office also noted that many of its current employees had private-sector experience, and that Brown’s tenure (which began in October 2019) has been largely focused on responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Just four months after Director Brown started, GOED’s role changed radically in response to the pandemic,” the office said in a statement. “That is hardly enough time to have been able to create and add new deputy director positions. Director Brown is committed to the Governor’s vision of bringing in industry experts and ambassadors into GOED when we get to the other side of this budget crisis.”

We’re keeping this promise as “not addressed” for the time being, however. There’s a difference between what Sisolak called for in that op-ed — bringing on dedicated and specified deputy directors to work with private businesses — and hiring a director of an agency with private sector experience.

— Riley Snyder

Senate Minority Leader James A. Settelmeyer, left, and Chief Justice James Hardesty on the fourth day of the 81st session of the Legislature in Carson City on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

What we’re reading

If you missed it on Sunday, be sure to check out Michelle Rindels’ excellent overview of criminal justice issues before the Legislature, including updates on police reform, death penalty repeal, bail and other major issues.

Daniel Rothberg on why a proposal to create new specialty water courts was DOA on the first day of the session.

Jacob Solis digs into the governor’s State of the State proposal to split community colleges off into their own governing body. Lots of really interesting details, and it sounds like the idea surprised many community college leaders.

Our Freshman Orientation series continues with Assemblywoman Venicia Considine and Sen. Fabian Doñate.

Tesla agreed to donate millions of dollars to education in Nevada as part of its massive tax abatement deal with the state in 2014, but questions are lingering as to who gets to decide where those donations go, the Nevada Current’s April Corbin reports.

Nevada’s prison system wants to exclude inmates from the state’s Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights (Nevada Current).

Carson City businesses aren’t seeing the normal rush of legislative traffic (Las Vegas Sun).

Similar reporting on slower-than-normal business near the capitol (CarsonNow.org).

Nevada Mining Association President Tyre Gray is not only the first African-American head of the mining industry association, but the first African-American head of any trade association in Nevada (Fox5).

UPCOMING DEADLINES

Days to take action on Initiative Petitions before they go to the 2022 ballot: 30 (March 12, 2021)

Days Until Legislator Bill Introduction Deadline: 33 (March 15, 2021)

Days Until Sine Die: 110 (May 31, 2021)

Updated at 9:28 a.m. on Thursday, February 11, 2021, to correct the spelling of interim Grants Office administrator Erin Hasty's name.

Bills banning police chokeholds, rolling back 2019 law protecting police under investigation clear Senate hurdle

State Senators Marcia Washington, left, and Pat Spearman

Members of the Nevada Senate voted Monday to approve bills that would restrict police use of chokeholds and amend out many sections of a previously passed bill granting additional rights to police officers accused of misconduct.

Both bills, AB3 and SB2, were introduced during the special session amid promises by Gov. Steve Sisolak and legislative leaders to tackle criminal justice reform issues in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, which sparked protests around the world and in Nevada. 

Senators voted 19-2 to approve AB3, a wide-ranging bill banning chokeholds and making other changes to police conduct. It was previously approved in the Assembly on a bipartisan 38-4 vote.

But the vote on SB2, which repealed sections of a 2019 bill granting protections to police officers under investigation for misconduct, was approved on a party-line 13-8 vote. 

It now heads to the Assembly.

AB3

Ahead of the vote on AB3, members of the Senate praised the bill’s provisions and said it would help improve tensions between minority communities and police departments.

Democratic Sen. Marcia Washington, who noted she rarely speaks on the Senate floor, said the bill was the beginning of “trying to correct some of the ills that have been occurring in our community.

“We're losing so many young people, because of a few bad cops,” she said, choking up. “And we're not saying that everybody's bad in the police department. We're just trying to get rid of those that shouldn't be police officers. So, today I'll be supporting this bill because I want to see my grandsons and my granddaughters live a long life.”

If signed, the bill will:

  • Restrict use of chokeholds, also called “lateral vascular neck restraints.”
  • Require police to intervene if they see a fellow officer using unjustified deadly force against an individual, regardless of chain of command. It also prohibits police agencies from retaliation against an officer who intervened.
  • Expressly allow for public recording of police activity, as long as the person recording is not obstructing police activity. Also prohibits police from seizing or destroying recorded images or videos.
  • Require officers to be tested for alcohol or drugs if they are involved in a shooting or situation that leads to the death or substantial injury of another person.
  • Replace language in law that allows police to use “all means necessary” to make the arrest of someone who is resisting or fleeing. The bill changes the language to only allow “only the amount of reasonable force necessary.”

The bill was also supported by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department; lobbyist Chuck Callaway said that out of 1.5 million calls for service in 2019, Metro had 900 reported uses of force, including 21 instances of “lateral vascular neck restraints” or police chokeholds.

The two senators who opposed the bill — Republicans Ira Hansen and Pete Goicoechea — said they were concerned with the timing and didn’t believe it rose to the level of an “extraordinary” circumstance required for the calling of a special session.

“I just don't feel comfortable again with the timing of this,” Goicoechea said. “I think if we did take it a little later and a little more thought into it, it almost seems like a knee jerk reaction to me, given the events of this summer, and so I will be voting no.”

Democratic Sen. Dallas Harris, who is Black, said the bill was indeed a response to an emergency, one that many Americans only began to realize after the summer of protests around the killing of George Floyd.

“This bill for me is a response to an emergency,” she said. “While this emergency has come to the consciousness of a majority of our population due to recent events, what has happened is not new. And so I am proud to be part of a body that is taking a much needed step at this time to respond. Not to something new but something to that unfortunately is very, very old.”

SB2

But senators split along party-lines to approve SB2, a rollback of several provisions protecting police officers under investigation that was approved in the 2019 Legislature despite staunch opposition from progressive groups and police departments, who said it hamstrung their ability to manage their workforce.

Many progressive activists (who wanted a full repeal of 2019’s SB242) and police unions (who didn’t want any changes) called in to oppose the bill during a hearing this weekend.

Ahead of the vote on Monday, Republican Sen. James Settelmeyer said he was opposing the bill because he thought it did not go far enough in granting police departments the ability to deal with problematic officers.

“The issue that I run into (in) my counties, which tend to be smaller, is actually that the sheriffs need far more latitude in getting rid of problem officers, and I feel that this bill does not give any significant reform in that respect,” he said.

Democratic Sen. Melanie Schieble said it was important to clarify that the provisions in SB242 largely applied to civil cases, not criminal, and thus did not close the door to certain kinds of legal action being taken against officers who violated the law.

“I think that it does give police organizations, law enforcement agencies the latitude that they need to get rid of bad officers, and also protects those good officers who do serve our community,” she said.

Bill limiting police chokeholds, requiring duty to intervene passes Assembly in bipartisan vote

Assembly Speaker Pro Tempore Steve Yeager presents Assembly Bill 3

A bill that restricts police use of chokeholds, allows recording of law enforcement and calls for drug testing of officers involved in shootings passed the Assembly with bipartisan support, in spite of criticism that lawmakers could have gone further to address police brutality.

Assembly members voted 38-4 on Saturday to pass AB3, with Republicans John Ellison, Robin Titus, Jim Wheeler and Chris Edwards opposed.

A few hours later, the Senate Committee of the Whole passed AB3 as well, meaning it next heads to a full Senate vote. Republican Sen. Ira Hansen opposed, saying the process felt rushed and is not related to COVID-19 or the budget so it shouldn’t be up for consideration.

“It simply does not belong in a special session,” he said.

Democratic Assemblyman Steve Yeager, who presented the bill, prefaced the legislation by describing four lapel pins on his suit jacket — one honoring police officers killed in the line of duty, one for his completion of a citizens police academy, one that says “Black Lives Matter” and a fourth that bears a silhouette of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

“These four lapel pins and the values that they reflect — they’re not mutually exclusive,” he said, before turning to the proposed bill. “... Assembly Bill 3 in front of you is the embodiment of what we can do better in the state of Nevada because if we aren’t moving forward, we’re standing still, which means we are falling behind.”

The bill comes weeks after protests erupted nationwide following the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota. Flody’s death sparked a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in big cities and small towns across the country — and, with it, calls for police reform. 

Gov. Steve Sisolak and other legislative leaders had pledged to address issues with systemic racism and policing during a press conference in early June, shortly after Floyd was killed and protests erupted around the state. The issue was not brought up in the initial, budget-focused special session this month, but was included in the proclamation for the current special session.

During the Saturday afternoon hearing, Ellison lamented what he described as “rumors” swirling about how the bill would defund police departments. 

“I think it took away from what the bill really intended to do,” he said.

Yeager agreed about the spread of misinformation.

“I think the best PR that we can do is to encourage folks to read the bill,” Yeager said. “Fortunately, this one is not too long.”

While it may not be long, the 10-page bill would enact a variety of reforms. For instance, the measure explicitly allows recording of law enforcement activity if it is not obstructing the activity and bars police from seizing recording instruments or destroying recorded images.

It provides that police can use “only the amount of reasonable force necessary” to carry out the arrest of someone who is fleeing or resisting. The law currently allows police to use “all necessary means” to make the arrest.

Asked about how “reasonable” is defined, Las Vegas police lobbyist Chuck Callaway said case law dating to the 1980s guides that definition. He noted that no officer he’s talked with believes that police actions taken against George Floyd were reasonable.

“There’s always the hindsight 20-20 factor and someone can always question after the fact whether or not the officer’s actions were reasonable,” he said. “If there’s an allegation brought forward to us at Metro that an officer’s actions were unreasonable, we’re going to conduct a thorough investigation on that to determine if that was the case.”

In 2019, Callaway said, there were 1.5 million calls for service where officers made contact with people, and there were 900 reported uses of force, including lower-level complaints such as people saying handcuffs were put on too roughly. He said that was a small fraction of 1 percent of incidents.

The bill also bans officers from choking people and says officers “shall take any actions necessary to place such a person in a recovery position if he or she appears to be in distress or indicates that he or she cannot breathe.” But Yeager noted that chokeholds could still happen if they were in self-defense against deadly force.

Callaway and legislative legal counsel said it would not preclude a physical struggle to get someone under arrest, but the chokehold prohibition applies once someone is in custody. “Lateral vascular neck restraints” were used 21 times in 2019, Callaway said, but the agency this summer changed its use of force policy to limit the technique only to when an officer’s life is being threatened. 

He said the agency supports the bill. The Nevada Police Union, which represents state-employed police officers, also supported it.

Additionally, the measure creates a “duty to intervene” that requires an officer to prevent or stop another officer from using unjustified force against a person, regardless of the chain of command. The officer must report in writing within 10 days the details of the incident.

The bill also requires testing officers for alcohol and drugs — including prescription drugs and cannabis — if they are involved in a shooting or a situation that led to substantial bodily harm or death of another person.

Callaway said under current practice, supervisors are subject to drug and alcohol testing if they are involved in a deadly force situation, but the bill would extend the testing to rank-and-file officers. He said he expected the results would be initially confidential but might later be made public if there was a criminal investigation, through civil litigation or — after the investigation is finished — through a public records request.

Legislators heard an hour of public testimony in support of the bill, although many callers indicated it’s only a starting point. 

“This is really the bare minimum of change that needs to occur in order to foster accountability when people needlessly die at the hands of law enforcement,” said Holly Welborn, policy director at the ACLU of Nevada. 

Assemblyman Tom Roberts, a Republican and former assistant sheriff with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, stood in support of the bill despite calling it a personal struggle. 

“With this bill, it’s not perfect,” he said. “It doesn’t hit every bell and whistle … I think it will actually improve community trust and make our organizations adopt some best practices that are utilized in our state already.”

Police officers who testified against the bill said the measure would handcuff them and is part of an effort to paint officers with a broad brush because of what happened to Floyd.

Scott Nicolas, vice president of the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, testified in opposition, saying there was “no compelling need to make drastic policy changes” at this time. 

“What we should be focused on is educating the public on dangers of resisting arrest and why compliance during a lawful detention or arrest is so important,” he said.