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U.S. finds lack of accountability in Las Vegas police shootings

By Timothy Pratt

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday released the results of an investigation into the use of force and officer-involved shootings by Las Vegas police, finding a lack of accountability by the department.

The agency's investigation comes after Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department officers were involved in a record 25 shootings in 2010, the cap to a decade that saw that number top 20 three times, another first.

The surge in police use of force was documented in a five-part series in the Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper last year that looked at dozens of shootings over two decades in which 142 civilians were killed and no officers were fired or prosecuted.

"The (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department) is taking too narrow an approach by just looking at whether an officer was in fear of his life - they're not holding officers accountable to adhere to the department's policies and principles," said James "Chips" Stewart of CNA, a Virginia-based research and analysis firm hired by the DOJ for the study.

The report makes 75 findings and recommendations, including that LVMPD's use of force policy is too cumbersome and difficult to implement and that most of the unarmed civilians involved in shootings were black.

It also said the board used to review the use of force by police officers was "outdated and insufficient," according to Bernard Melekian, director of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services at the Justice Department.

The DOJ began its on-the-ground look at the LVMPD several months after officials read the newspaper series on police use of force and interviewed nearly 100 people, including officers, prosecutors, police union officials and community groups, Melekian said.

Sheriff Douglas Gillespie, who oversees the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, said he had not seen the findings until today but was "not afraid of this report" and embraced its findings.

Melekian said the DOJ report into the LVMPD and its recommendations were different from a federal consent decree, which is more time-consuming and expensive. The report released Thursday, he said, came out of a "collaborative reform process."

The Justice Department's civil rights division may yet pursue investigations of specific cases involving shootings by officers, he said, and his office would revisit the police agency in six months and issue another report in a year.

Dane Claussen, executive director of the ACLU of Nevada, said he was concerned about the lack of data on racial disparities in Las Vegas-area police work. He said that neither the federal agency nor LVMPD collected this data, adding, "somebody's got to do it."

(This story clarifies third paragraph from bottom of story)

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Todd Eastham)

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