Clark County Sheriff Gene Kelly attended a meeting with law enforcement leaders from across the U.S. just one week ago in Washington, D.C. that focused on how to improve training and build relationships with local community members.
Despite more training, increased use of body cameras and other strategies, events over the past week bring home the depth of the challenges communities still face, Kelly said. At least five officers were killed and seven wounded in Dallas on Thursday night during a protest of recent shootings in which two black men were killed by police.
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“Everybody felt really good leaving there that so much has been accomplished,” Kelly said of the meeting in Washington. “But when something like what’s happened this week in Louisiana and Minnesota and now in Dallas, it’s really going to challenge law enforcement. You’ve got to be concerned about your safety and the safety of the community and those that see this as an opportunity to act out.”
Clark County deputies have worked hard to build relationships with local community members, Kelly said. All deputies now wear body cameras, and have trained more hours than ever both in dealing with an active shooter and new tactics to build trust with residents.
At a time when mistrust of government seems to be at a peak, he said one of the challenges is that deputies and police officers are the most visible sign of government.
“We’re doing textbook law enforcement here,” Kelly said. “We’re doing the right things. But we’re still dealing with humans who have emotions and thoughts and frustrations and we’re the most visible sign of government. That’s why we need to take extra precautions and we need to be better trained and prepared. We’re doing all of that, but as evidenced by last night, you can’t prepare for everything.”
Law enforcement leaders also need to take steps to remove officers who act inappropriately on the job, he said.
“If you have individuals who act inappropriately or do not follow our code of conduct or oath of office then they should not be in law enforcement,” Kelly said. “I think that’s what’s happening across America. It’s not a perfect group of individuals. There are people who should not be law enforcement officers and it’s our job to weed them out and remove them.”
Kelly knows firsthand the tragedy of losing a deputy in the line of duty. In 2011, Deputy Suzanne Waughtel Hopper was shot and killed while investigating a report of shots fired at the Enon Beach campground.
“I never, ever want to go through what I did in 2011 and lose a deputy,” Kelly said.