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Police union threatens legal action over Metro’s decision to test body-mounted cameras


Leila Navidi

Clark County Sheriff Douglas Gillespie speaks during an editorial board meeting with Las Vegas Sun staff inside his office in Las Vegas on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2012.

Published Mon, May 7, 2012 (2 a.m.)

Updated Mon, May 7, 2012 (5:31 p.m.)

Man kicked in the head by Henderson Police officer

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Video footage from a Nevada Highway Patrol dashboard camera of a Henderson Police officer kicking a man in the head during a traffic stop, Feb. 7, 2012. Warning: The footage contains material that may be offensive.

Metro Police don’t have dashboard cameras, but this month officers will begin testing one type of body-worn camera with hopes of purchasing more of the cameras and putting them into regular use within the next fiscal year.

No specific money has been set aside yet for the cameras, a county spokesman said Monday. But during Metro’s Fiscal Affairs Committee two weeks ago, Metro told County Commissioner Steve Sisolak the department could use money from its forfeiture fund for the potential purchase of the cameras and related expenses.

Sisolak sits as one of five members of the Fiscal Affairs Committee, which oversees Metro’s budget. He said testing of at least one camera could be completed in July, but the department planned to look at four or five more camera models before making a decision about which one to buy.

He added that he was happy Metro was moving toward getting the cameras.

“It’s something that will protect both officers who are wrongly accused and help clear up allegations and issues of police and citizen conduct more conclusively,” Sisolak said. “Ultimately, (the cameras) will strengthen the public’s trust in the department.”

To help ensure Metro’s entry into the new age of video documentation of police stops, a group called Cameras 2012 has formed. The local chapter of the NAACP and Restore Trust Las Vegas joined to form the group.

Richard Boulware, NAACP first vice president, said the group’s aim is not only to ensure the department gets body-mounted cameras but also dashboard cameras.

“There is no better way to restore faith in the police department and to vindicate police officers in light of unwarranted accusations,” he said.

Metro spokesman Sgt. John Sheahan said Metro doesn’t have dashboard cameras because most of an officer’s interaction with the public takes place outside his or her vehicle and out of view of those fixed cameras.

To get the body-mounted cameras in use, however, Metro might have to first defend itself in court. The Las Vegas Police Protective Association is not backing down from its contention such cameras can’t be forced upon officers without first negotiating with the union.

Chris Collins, union president, said the cameras represent a “clear change in working conditions,” as they add new requirements to an officer’s daily routine, including downloading the camera’s data. The cameras, he added, also could impact an officer’s safety. Both factors, he said, mean it is “mandatory” for the department to include the cameras within the scope of its union contract.

If the department moves to buy the cameras without that contractual consideration, “we are going to take legal action,” Collins added.

Sheriff Doug Gillespie could not be reached for comment. But when the Sun outlined a similar union argument in February, the sheriff replied that he didn’t see body cameras as a contract matter. If the union’s contention on the camera were true, Gillespie had reasoned, the department also would have to negotiate when putting lights on a police car and a shotgun inside it.

Gillespie had said he was committed to getting the body cameras, which are being used or tested at hundreds of departments throughout the country. At the time, the sheriff’s only worry was how to pay for the program.

In the coming year, the department projects a base forfeiture fund of $1.45 million, with an additional $6.88 million added to it from the fund balance of the overall budget to bring the total to $8.3 million. The forfeiture fund shows projected expenses of $5.2 million for “minor equipment” and $2.8 million for “capital equipment.”

Sisolak said that until a camera model was chosen, the exact amount of money drawn from the fund to pay for the cameras wouldn’t be known.

When a camera system eventually is picked, the biggest expense will be data storage, Sheahan said.

“It’s the gift that keeps on giving, so to speak,” Sheahan said of the potential cost of storing video of police calls.

The body-camera systems are proprietary, so storage would likely be the responsibility of the chosen company, which likely also would charge a fee for storage.

Metro officers, Sheahan added, are called up to 1 million times per year. Even if only a fraction of those results in some video record, the storage requirements could be daunting.

Storage costs also will depend upon on how long Metro plans to store the video, which is policy that has not yet been worked out, Sheahan said.

In the interest of watching out for taxpayer dollars, Sheahan made clear Metro is moving ahead – but carefully. Though committed to getting body cameras, he said, the department doesn’t want to pick a system that will be technologically obsolete in six months.

Boulware, of Cameras 2012, said the cost of replacing the equipment shouldn’t be Metro’s main concern right now.

“That the technology may be obsolete in a year or two doesn’t mean you put accountability on hold,” he said.

He added that the amount of money Metro pays in settlements and legal fees for police misconduct cases may be more than the cost of replacing cameras every few years. Boulware also said “community groups” are talking about starting a campaign to educate the public about the use of and need for the video cameras.

Metro’s lack of even dashboard cameras became more noticeable due to some recent cases involving incidents of alleged police misconduct.

Earlier this year, for instance, the city of Henderson agreed to a nearly $260,000 settlement, with Nevada kicking in another $35,000, due to the dashboard recording of an October 2010 incident involving Henderson Police Sgt. Brett Seekatz.

Adam Greene was captured on a Nevada Highway Patrol dashcam swerving as he drove east on Lake Mead Parkway. After Greene was dragged from his car and five officers put him on the ground, Seekatz came into camera shot and kicked Greene in the head five times. Greene, it was discovered, was suffering from diabetic shock. Seekatz was disciplined by the department but not fired. City Council members said they didn’t know of the incident until this year. They were angered by it and, shortly after the Sun published the video, Henderson Police Chief Jutta Chambers announced her retirement.

Metro had its own embarrassing video incident from March 2011.

Resident Mitchell Crooks was videotaping police on a routine stop near Maryland Parkway and Desert Inn Road when Officer Derek Colling approached him and, within seconds, had Crooks, who was now screaming, on the ground and under arrest. Colling’s approach and questions are caught on video; then the camera is dropped. Talk and screaming can be heard, but none of the subsequent altercation is on video.

Crooks filed a federal lawsuit alleging his rights were violated. Charges against Crooks were dropped, and the sheriff fired Colling in December. (Trying to get his job back, Colling filed a complaint with an arbitrator.)

In February, Metro agreed to pay a $100,000 settlement to Crooks.

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Discussion: 49 comments so far…

  1. Once again, the camera can be your friend. On the other hand it can be your enemy if you do something bad. I do not know why people who wear a badge and who are paid to protect the public and that is us are afraid of a camera. Is there a possibility the folks who wear the badge think said badge will protect them? I think the majority would have no problems of wearing a camera and drive a cruiser with a dash cam.

    Video cams are getting smaller by the day. There are police officers who don't want to be on a video by the public when there doing there job. I wonder why? I have a thought process that 99% of the people that where the badge that says,"Police" are good. There's the 1% that we have to watch for.

    The police union needs to get with the program. The rank and file police officers know that sooner or later everyone will know what they do. The video is your friend and not your enemy. I do not understand the hatred of cams for police officers. Can someone explain please?

  2. This is NOT a contract matter. We, the citizens who hire the police and whom the police are sworn to serve and protect, demand that our servants be accountable, period.

  3. I agree boftx!

  4. Camera's will provide evidence against suspects. Camera's will clear cops wrongfully accused of misconduct. Camera's will provide evidence against bad cops.

    Chris Collins and his leftist LVPPA is trying to stop something that will help convict criminals, protect the reputations of honest cops and help the department rid itself of bad cops.

    Clearly he has more interests in keeping bad cops on the force than the has interests in protecting good cops and putting the bad guys away. And how did Collins get his job? He was elected by the cops to represent their interests. So we have to assume his interests are the same has their's. Otherwise they would be doing what the can to oust their liberal boy toy.

    Oddly enough, these cameras will also solve his issues with his officers testifying at the inquests, as we could all just watch what happened.

  5. Metro continues to roll in the money (being able to purchase these cameras) and the union continues to be afraid of anything new. Well Union, the good old days are gone and management is going to have officers wear cameras and eventually have GPS on the cars. Guess there will be no more road trips to AZ, huh guys?

  6. Unions don't want the cameras as it could show the aggression used. It's like the show cops, suspects down and not resisting and the cops yelling stop resisting when they're not resisting. Maybe the use of cameras would help better train cops with varying situations.

  7. A miniature camera that attaches to the uniform is not the same as a shotgun in or lights on the car. What a ridiculous statement! Who pays when the officer drops the camera and breaks it? Where on the body is the camera attached and how will it impact the officer's duty? Who manages the downloaded data and how is it stored? The Sheriff's blase attitude would make me balk, too.

  8. "The department will use money from its forfeiture fund to purchase the cameras. By Nevada law, confiscated cash, along with proceeds from sales of items that came from "the commission or attempted commission of any felony" can be put into a forfeiture fund. . .the department projects a base forfeiture fund of $1.45 million, with an additional $6.88 million added to it from the fund balance of the overall budget to bring the total to $8.3 million."

    Now we see the motivation behind Metro's (and the state's) eagerness for drug raids and warrantless searches. As with everything now having to do with government, it's about getting the money.

    The Takings Clause, anyone?

    "[The law] has placed the collective force in the service of those who wish to traffic, without risk, and without scruple, in the persons, the liberty, and the property of others; it has converted plunder into a right, that it may protect it, and lawful defense into a crime, that it may punish it." -- Frederic Bastiat, 1850 "The Law"

  9. Unaccountable, another reason to ban public unions.

  10. Since when does the running of the department fall under the duties of the Union?

    This union is feeling they have more power then they really do. The Union does not pay for or set policy for Metro.

    It is time they get back to taking care of their members and not telling Metro how to protect and serve the Las Vegas community.

    These unions are wondering why the public is turning against them, this is just another example of them stepping over their bounds.

  11. This will turn cops into robots, knowing their every move is documented. I can appreciate their frustration, I would reject the idea myself, right or wrong. On the other hand a camera can presumably be turned off, which an officer might elect to do, such as if he is in contact with a confidential informant. Let him defend such an action later, if necessary.

  12. Jeff,

    I'll grant that there is some merit to what you say, especially with regard to confidential informants. I hadn't thought of that. There could probably be procedures worked out to allow for special circumstances.

    But overall, I think METRO has lost a great deal of respect and trust by the public and this now needed to help regain it.

  13. Jeff,

    What about dash-cams? There can be little doubt that they serve a purpose. What problems do you see with them?

    If we didn't incidents like that involving Yant there probably wouldn't be so much interest in taking this step.

  14. I doubt there would be any issues such as the ones you mention in connection with casinos. They would apply to the cameras already in place there, as well.

    A greater concern will be the security of the data. It will be a prime target for hackers.

  15. I didn't say that I trust the cops to be in charge of the tapes, and I'm not sure that I would, entirely. As for shooting video in casinos, I really think that is a non-issue assuming there are adequate safeguards on the video itself.

    I will be interested to see the actual policy and procedures developed for this, but I am in favor of it in principle. It is quite possible that I will have problems with the implementation..

  16. @ JeffFromVegas.."One set of bad apples should not drive policy."

    What world to you live in? Crime in general is perpetrated by "a few bad apples" yet their actions are what drives policy. A single person getting a little sick from misusing a bath salt, drove policy. A few bad drivers texting behind the wheel, drove policy. The death of a single kidnapped child will drive policy.

  17. @airweave...you need to stop making up numbers. That 750 is close to the rate of VIOLENT crime, but comes nowhere near the number of crimes per 100,000. That's more like 4,800 crimes/100,000, which doesn't even rank us in the top 20.(http://bit.ly/rgWEtd)

  18. If the cops are in charge of offloading the cameras, guess what? Theres gonna be some missing video.

  19. @JeffFromVegas..."I don't think one bad cop warrants evry cop carrying 24/7 video machines on their person.

    Sorry you disagree."

    I don't disagree, but the problem is we have more than just one bad cop. Here's just a taste of the bad cops we have in the valley (http://wp.me/P2bnGV-18).

    But then video cameras are not just about catching bad cops. The also clear wrongfully accused cops and help convict suspects. I'm sorry you don't agree that those worth having a tiny camera mounted in their uniform.

  20. @airweave, the statistics from bottom line are not for Las Vegas, but for the State as a whole.

    According to the the 20102 FBI's Uniform Crime Report (http://1.usa.gov/pa75RZ) Detroit, Michigan's violent crime rate was the highest in the county (1,887.4/100,000). Las Vegas (893.0/100,000) was ranked 24th.

    Murders (including nonnegligent manslaughter) was actually 7.6/100,000, placing Las Vegas 41st in the nation, not 8th.

  21. The Union should state a compromising action before filing a lawsuit. Where would they like the cameras?

    Is is possible to switch the cameras off during breaks or administrative duties? If not, this should be included. Cameras and recording equipment don't need to be on during quiet times, but the 'on' button should be readily accessible. Maybe the Dashcam has a greater desirability under those circumstances.

  22. How much more would be shown if some kind of cameras were in use? How much would be prevented? And how much would be saved in defending good cops against false charges?

    I understand your argument, Jeff, but I'm not sure that cops wearing cams would actually violate the rights of citizens or businesses. The unauthorized release of the data certainly would be a violation of rights, but not the collection of it, or rather an additional means of collecting it.

    For me, this comes down to public employees being held accountable to the public they serve. We've tried the "honor system" and it has failed in a number of cases. Are there potential problems? Hell, yes! But the circumstances warrant looking at what can be done.

  23. Dash cameras in the patrol cars seem reasonable. Cameras on the cop at all time, I don't quite agree with that one.

  24. @ drowsyangel..."you are misinformed again Chris Collins is not elected. Just helping you out again."

    Thanks for the help. I guess their website is lying.

    I quote, "In October 2006, Chris was elected to succeed Dave Kallas as Executive Director of the Association." (http://www.lvppa.com/board.php)

    I don't know why you think misinforming me would be either successful or helpful, but before you bother me again, please check your sources. Because I check mine.

  25. @drowsyangel..."They changed it, that is OLD information(2006) They don't have elections anymore, the board appoints people now, not the cops."

    So you are asking me to ignore what is currently on the LVPPA's website and take your word for it? Okay, what are your credentials? Are you a board member of the LVPPA, are you a cop? Why are you more credible than the LVPPA, or Chis Collins himself.

    If he was never elected, then please explain his motivation for penning the following "Executive Director's Message" (http://bit.ly/KFKfmG) in the Summer of last year?

    Geesh,the article is titled, "RUNNING FOR RE-ELECTION." and has lines like, "...with this article I am announcing that I will be running for a second term so that I may continue to serve in the position of Executive Director of the LVPPA." and "If re-elected, it will again be my honor and privilege to represent the hardworking law enforcement..." as well as "Before I committed to another term, I again wanted to be sure that....I can say I have the unanimous support of the Executive Board and the Board of Directors in my re-election bid." oh and, "Without these individuals' support, I would not have sought re-election.." and finally, "This election is not about Chris Collins."

    Someone once told me, "Sorry if the truth bothers you," but as of last Summer Collins was talking about his "RE-ELECTION" bid and of two minutes ago the LPPS wedsite says Collins was elected.

    So unless you have something that supports your contradiction of what the LVPPA and Collins himself have published, I'm going to assume you just a confused little old lady who spends too much time talking to her cats.

  26. Seems overly complicated with the second and third party involvements creating high cost.

    If the public felt they had reason to trust the department there would be less support for cameras anywhere. Unfortunately police conduct before, during and after incidents has created doubt.

    For citizens to support the department they need to feel the police are their friends, not the enemy and when you fight transparency at every level, distrust is automatic.

  27. We know a young soldier on the front line in Afghanistan. He wears a helmet-cam, and is not the least bit shy about the work he is doing or the fact that it is being videotaped.

    The kid is a bad ash Cajun from Louisiana, who learned to hunt when he was 8 years old. He's the kind of person most people might think would be "acting-out" against the enemy, and not want his work videotaped. Instead, he believes that he's doing right and that the helmet cam video protects him from b.s. complaints from Afghan civilians.

    All I can say is that the boys at Metro's union need to grow up. If the union's members are doing worse things than this bad ash Cajun in Afghanistan, then perhaps the union needs to have a "come to Jesus meeting" with its members, put them on the straight and narrow and listen to their union members' legitimate complaints about Metro's management and do something about those issues.

    And the opportunity to videotape one's immediate supervisor being a jerk...priceless. I once had a boss who made TV's Dr. House look like a pussy cat. I wish I had had the opportunity to video him, as well as some of the jerks our company dealt with.

  28. The current version of unions aren't designed to protect workers from having their rights violated by employers. They are designed to protect workers from accountability. How can the police expect the public to trust them when they fight every attempt to be held accountable for their actions?

    I recently read about a cop who was accused of using racial slurs during a traffic stop and his body camera proved his innocence. I would think honest cops would be grateful for the cameras. Their protests would lead any reasonable person to conclude that cops do not want their conduct to be discovered.

  29. Jeff,

    I was also thinking about our respective positions on this issue and found them somewhat surprising. I can't say that your position does not have merit. But I also won't say that mine is without merit.

    This is a case where reasonable people need to present various viewpoints with examples for consideration and arrive at a synthesis.

    I would say that as a Classical Liberal who identifies with the Whigs I value individual rights even more than States' Rights. Although that would seem to strengthen your position on the surface, I would say that my rights as a citizen to have public servants held accountable to the public (me) is also a compelling interest.

    Bradley (BChap) pointed out that everything an officer says or does while on duty is "on the record." If that is correct, then I don't think there is an invasion of rights when you and I interact with an officer if that interaction is recorded.

    Like you, I always treat officers (and anyone, in general) with respect. I can not think of a single instance where I would be wary of having an exchange recorded. But I will say this. I treat METRO (and Glendale, CA) officers with respect out of caution. All others I have given respect to because I felt they automatically deserve it. (Besides routine interaction due to several traffic stops and an accident, I have dealt with many departments on a professional basis.)

    I think that police officers deserve respect due to trust, and it is wrong to give it to them out of fear.

    Dash- or body-cams for METRO would go a long way towards re-establishing mutual trust and respect.

  30. @JeffFromVegas...."You think because they get paid by us you can demand this? Why not firemen too, Judges? ALL POLITICIANS, Your spouse?

    First off, while I don't care how your marriage works, I don't have to pay my wife. And as for the other professions you mention. When judges and firemen start shooting our unarmed neighbors in the back, forcing our daughters to flash their breasts, or any of the other misadventures Metro has become known for, then I would say absolutely, wire them up.

    And as far as you tired cliche of an argument, "Oh and by the way. If there is a life or death emergency who you gonna call?" How about you man up and learn to take care of yourself. There is not a situation imaginable that would have me calling Metro. What are they going to do other than play janitor?

    I don't need the government to take care of me. What I need is for the government to behave, and since they haven't been able to get their stuff together and police their own, they have left us no choice but to play babysitter.

    I agree that we "it is time to mature as a country." But the police are one of the groups in dire need of growing up. These are grown men who take government vehicles for joyrides across Arizona when the should be at work. These are grown me who act like scared little children because they believe the bogey man is out to get them.

    I would rather not have to spend tax dollars to keep constant watch on a group of adults who refuse to behave, but since the department has failed to do so, they have left us no choice.

  31. @JeffFromVegas.....So you think it's time we "mature as a country"? You believe that the public's demand for accountability goes against the American way? I believe that police misconduct such as the blatant violation of people's civil rights and the persistent problem of excessive force all over the country is un-American. Or what about the militarization of police departments in the US? Is it the American way to use a swat team to raid the home of someone who unpaid library ? Is it the American way to use tasers on 5 year old children or 85 year old seniors? Is it the American way to assault peaceful student protestors with pepper spray? Or go watch the just released video of the Fullerton cops who MURDERED a mentally ill homeless man. http://bit.ly/JmEhej Then explain to me how that is the American way.

    The truth of the matter is that police officers these days increasingly commit crimes. Every morning when I go online to read the news there is another story about an abuse of power by a police officer. The even more amazing and even sadder truth is that most officers who abuse their power, or commit crimes, never get caught. Unless someone happens to be present with a video camera, the only way the public could ever know about what happened is if someone who was there tells us about it.

    Police officers sincerely believe themselves to be in charge of the world. The law doesn't apply to them, because they are the law. LVMPD doesn't deserve NOT to be required to wear body cameras. Metro has declared was on the residents of Las Vegas and most of them don't even realize it. They are too naive to understand that if they call 911 for police help they are putting their life in danger along with the lives of anyone in their home.

  32. @Jeff, "Your attack on me and my manhood, and my desire to protect my family makes you a simpleton coward."

    For that I apologize. It didn't seem that you actually had a desire to protect your family, but rather a desire for the government to protect your family.

    Call me a coward all you want, but my family's safety is my responsibility. If you rely on police you may find yourself in the a situation like Ex-Marine Kenneth Chamberlain whose medic alert system mistakenly summoned police. Police came to make sure he was alright and then shot him, because he had the audacity to assert his 4th Amendment rights. And he is not alone. There are hundreds of cases every month where a call to the police for help resulted in the death of the caller or a member of their family.

    You want to trust that a group of armed yahoos that didn't even have to graduate high school to get their jobs will take care of you, all I can say is ,"Good Luck with that."

  33. And 'NLV Firefighters say NO to further concessions, risking major layoffs'.

    Henderson is awarding $millions in damage decisions resulting from it's Civil Servants. There is no end in sight. The glut of foreclosed homes hasn't stabilized. Layoffs are looming in the School District. Turmoil is ramping up.

    This is what 9/11 started, using only 19 conspirators. The objective was to destroy the financial stability of the country and how successful they remain, thanks to Wizards of Wall Street who will do anything for a buck including help bin Laden.

  34. @JeffFromVegas...Looking back it seems the early hour may have had an effect on our discussion. While I see clearly that my responses to you were abrasive at best, possessing a cooler head now, I offer an apology.

    My quick dismissal resulted in a missed opportunity to learn something. Because I don't see how you find these cameras a Constitutional issue. I would be very interested in reading your argument in this area.

  35. @JeddFromVegas....First of all these issues are ones of state law, not Constitutional concerns.

    That being said NRS200.610 and NRS200.620 refer to the interception of private communications between two or more parties without their knowledge.

    Your assertion that "All audio and video by court order and statute must have both parties approve of the recording." is just plain wrong.

    NRS 200.620.."it is unlawful for any person to intercept or attempt to intercept any wire communication unless:
    (a) The interception or attempted interception is made with the prior consent of one of the parties"

    Even when the recording is done by someone not party to the comminication, consent on only one person is needed."

    And cameras would record the interactions of police with the public. They would be part of the conversation, and NRS 200.650 allows the recording of any private conversation as long as the recording is "authorized....by one of the persons engaging in the conversation."

    And none of those statutes even apply in situations where there is no expectation of privacy to begin with.

  36. @Jeff, filming people in public is not a search. There is no expectation of privacy.

    However, if you think that cops are not already "serial violators of the 4th amendment" then you haven't been paying attention.