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He lost his partner.
He endured a year of physical and mental rehab.
He faced the chance he could never be a cop again.
And when he walked back into a police substation Nov. 2 to work a patrol shift again, it was like starting all over again.
“It felt like my first day on the street,” Las Vegas police officer David Nesheiwat said .
The 26-year-old is back at work patrolling downtown, continuing the job he said he never considered quitting even after the October 2009 wreck that killed his partner, Milburn “Millie” Beitel.
Metropolitan Police Department officer DuWayne Layton’s patrol partner is pretty cool.
Except for all that shedding. And those fangs. And the panting. Oh, and the pooping in public. That’s really gotta stop.
But it won’t stop, because Layton’s patrol partner is a Belgian Malinois shepherd named Rico. Layton serves with Metro’s K9 unit, a corps of 21 patrolmen who partner with dogs to chase down criminals, uncover narcotics and pinpoint explosives.
Unlike any human patrol partners (we hope), Layton’s K9 patrol dogs go home with him at night, living with his family and other household pets. The 24-7 relationship creates strong bonds: Layton teared up as he discussed Rico’s retirement in November, when, after 10 years of service, he’ll make way for Layton’s next patrol dog, a Malinois named Boris. Another Malinois, Bonnie, works with Layton as a bomb-detection dog.
A much younger Kim Thomas thought he would be “a Lone Wolf McQuade,” his term for the sort of supercop portrayed by martial arts expert Chuck Norris in a 1983 action film. Instead, despite his own impressive credentials in the martial arts, he became a financial crimes sleuth.
And he wrote “Vegas: One Cop’s Journey,” a gritty novel of police life.
Thomas, 53, won’t officially retire from the Metropolitan Police Department until Wednesday , but he was honored this past week in a ceremony at the detective bureau. Deputy Chief Jim Owens recounted some of Thomas’ accomplishments.
In 2000, Owens noted, Thomas organized “a cooperative task force with the United States Secret Service to answer the growing menace of rings of criminals using computer technology to counterfeit checks, ID cards, money. Operation Speedtrap went into action. Detective Thomas and his partner, Eric Heindel, arrested over 560 suspects from 2000 to 2004.”
Las Vegas police are teaming up with Target to provide holiday gifts for underprivileged children.
This year’s “Santa Cops” event will be held Saturday at a local Target.
More than 100 police department employees will shop with 112 children from the Las Vegas area.
Most of the more than $15,000 going toward the program was raised and donated by police department employees during the year. Target also made a donation.
Before the shopping starts a SWAT vehicle will bring Santa to the Target to visit with the children and take photos.
New speed limits and tougher consequences for not wearing seat belts are ahead for Metro officers.
But News 3’s Sophia Choi and the Crime Tracker Team learned that an even bigger challenge than changing the rules is changing the habits and culture of police work.
When two officers died this year in high-speed crashes after not wearing their seat belts, Metro knew quickly that getting officers to slow down and buckle up was priority number one. Policies in support of these goals should be final within two weeks.
But there’s an even tougher mission ahead focusing on one word: culture.
Chris Collins, president of the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, knows what Metro’s culture was when he joined in 1984.
Collins: That culture is that the seat belt is cumbersome. It takes time to get out of the car.
Sophia Choi: Did you wear a seat belt?
Collins: I did not. And I don’t say that proudly. I say that because it was the culture at the time. When I hired on the state law did not exist for seat belts for anyone – citizens or police officers or anyone.
It became law for citizens and policy for Metro but that was a slow change that some officers still struggle with.
“If you stop the car and someone runs, there’s always been the myth that, you know, I’ll forget to take the seat belt off and get caught up in the seat belt and not be able to get out.”
Police driving expert Ron Kelley says those fears are no excuse.
“It goes back to lead by example. How can you expect the public to wear safety belts if your officers are not wearing safety belts?”
And the no seat belt culture isn’t just a Metro problem: On Internet sites like Officer.com you can find officers from around the country talking about ways to cheat the safety program.
One post from Missouri even talks about keeping “everyone sane while cruising in high crime areas with your seat belt off.” The poster explains how to disable the audible seat belt alarm in a Crown Victoria, the most common police car across the country.
An L.A. County officer also suggests asking for a seat belt extender on OfficerStore.com. Online catalogs for police officers suggest these devices, designed to extend a seat belt around an officer’s heavily equipped belt.
But they can also be used to trick the car into thinking a seat belt is in use. Yet another kind of belt extender from Officer.com pushes the “release” higher in the car to make belting in easer.
Metro, Henderson, and North Las Vegas Police allow these kinds of seat belt extenders as long as they’re not used to circumvent the car’s safety features.
A second part of police culture is the focus on responding quickly to a call for help.
“When that radio goes off they want to get there and help,” Collins continues. “Their goal is not to be driving crazy, not to get themselves hurt in car accidents or hurt anybody else (but) to get there and help save someone’s life. Sometimes doing that you get caught up in the moment and you drive a little faster than maybe you should.”
In May, Officer James Manor crashed and died while trying to get to a call; he was traveling 107 miles her hour in an area where the speed limit was 45 miles per hour. And Officer Milburn Beitel died in October when he crashed while going 71 miles per hour, also in a 45 mile per hour zone.
“Metro’s policy clearly states that officers must use good judgment while driving in order to protect both themselves and the public,” said Sheriff Gillespie at a recent press conference. “These recent tragedies have brought to light a nationwide problem of police officers not wearing seat belts. We enforce the rules and we also set the example. We have both the responsibility and obligation to drive in a safe and prudent manner.”
However, neither officer was wearing a seat belt.
“Officers should need to start thinking that they need to drive with due regard for their own life first and if they do that, then they’ll be in due regard with other citizens lives who are out on the streets with them,” suggests Kelley.
Patrol Captain Mike Dalley of Metro’s Enterprise Area Command reinforces Gillespie’s message daily.
Captain Dalley: We enforce the laws; we need to handle our laws as well. There’s been a discussion about getting in and out of cars and things of that nature, but to us that’s just going to have to change. We’re going to change the culture.
Collins: That culture will change. It will take time. It’s not going to happen overnight.
Sheriff Gillespie: We understand changing policy, as well as culture, is a process and it takes time to do it right.
Other police agencies are going through the same cultural changes as Metro: Illinois State Police recently instituted a speed cap similar to the one Metro plans to adopt later this month.
While the Crime Tracker Team found Metro officers and officers from other local police agencies who participate in Officer.com, no local officers were involved in any conversation regarding seat belt extenders.
By Sophia Choi
The 19th annual Las Vegas Police K-9 Trials were held last weekend weekend, with 36 police dog-officer teams from across the United States and one from Mexico competing. Metro Officer Mike Horn, president of the nonprofit group behind the event, joined the force in 1980 and the K-9 unit six years later. He is the department’s senior K-9 trainer and handles Bocho and Lovie, both German shepherds.
What are some of the dogs’ job requirements?
The work can be rigorous. They have to jump in and out of vehicles, run up and down stairs and search cars, houses and apartments. We put them through a battery of tests to see if they’re a good match for the tasks we’re going to need them to do.
How expensive is it?
Most of our dogs come from Europe, and can cost $7,500 to $10,000. We do all our training in-house, and currently have about 40 dogs in the K-9 unit assigned to patrol, narcotics and explosives detection.
What happens when a dog is no longer able to work?
The handlers adopt them for a small fee — no one ever gives up their partner. That’s one of the reasons we created Friends for Las Vegas Police K-9s almost 20 years ago, to help raise money for the retired dogs. Most of them are at a point in life when the vet bills start piling up and the expenses become the officers’ responsibility. The proceeds from our fundraisers help. We’ve also gotten tremendous support from Siegfried & Roy.
Have you had any particularly memorable “gets?”
My German shepherd patrol dog Eich found a burglary suspect in a warehouse. The guy tried to grab Eich’s collar and got bit. A while later we respond to a break-in at a pizza shop. Eich has to jump over stacked cases of soda to get to where there’s someone hiding. He’s biting through the cans to get to him, spraying soda everywhere. And it’s the same guy — two weeks after he got out of prison for the first burglary. I say to him, “Dude, have you not learned?” The guy tells me, “That dog is so good — it’s the second time he’s found me.”
How would you describe the bond between officers and their K-9 partners?
We spend more time with the dogs than we do with any human being. They are with us 24-7, on the job and at home. But they are not pets. When your truck starts up they are right there, ready to go to work.
What do you hope the public takes away from this weekend’s event?
This is an opportunity for our dogs to demonstrate what they do for the community. Usually nobody sees it but the bad guys.
By EMILY RICHMOND
Most police officers have first aid training so they can help people until an ambulance arrives. But what happens when one of Las Vegas Metro’s K-9 partners gets hurt?
SWAT teams, search and rescue teams, and everyday patrol officers work with police dogs. And now, they’ll all be able to help if one of their four-legged friends is injured.
“Basically, we’d just throw them into the squad car and take them over to the vet,” says Eric Husson, search and rescue volunteer. “So now we can at least provide some care, initially, and then get them going to the hospital. The biggest thing though is their paws beause that’s the thing that gets injured the most often.”
There’s one big difference between wrapping an injured paw and wrapping a person’s foot. And this means extra effort to keep the wrap from getting too tight.
“That’s the hardest part – a dog can’t tell you what’s wrong with him, so you got to kind of try to figure it out.”
Half the training is done on live dogs; the other part of the training is done on cadaver dogs. It’s a little graphic, but it’s a necessary tool.
The training also includes CPR for dogs. One form is just like CPR on a person, while another version is applied specifically for a dog’s anatomy: two people alternate compressing the dog’s chest and stomach.
“It’s absolutely essential and it’s new – new how many people are getting trained at it,” explains Jo-Anne Brenner, National Police Dog Foundation. “We want to make sure as many handlers, as many medics, as many tactical medics, docs, (and) human docs have exposure to the training. So it can really make a difference if any of the K-9s need help in the field.”
The training was made possible thanks to a number of agencies, including the Oquendo Vet Center, a facility for veterinary training that opened in February.
Many pets are living longer these days. That’s good news, but it also means cancer rates among pets are going up. Nearly half of all dogs get cancer at some point in their lives. Luckily, there’s now a facility in Las Vegas where cutting edge medicine is being practiced to resolve the deadliest and most complicated veterinary challenges.
It’s called the Veterinary Referral Center. There’s nothing else like it in the state. It’s the place where other vets send their trickiest cases.
In every cage and every corner of the center, there’s a story that will break your heart. Autumn is usually the orneriest of cats, but the cancer in her liver looks like it has spread to her bones, so she’s less of a pistol than normal.
One dog sacked out on the floor is waiting to have his leg amputated so the tumor doesn’t spread further.
Sad faces — scared faces — dogs and cats on their last legs and others on the mend, looking a bit embarrassed by their hospital garb.
Nearly every case that comes to Veterinarian Dave Mason is a referral from other vets in town. This is where the special cases are sent, the medical mysteries and lost causes, because the center is a cutting edge hospital facility.
“It’s exactly the same — looks the same — same equipment, same anesthetic, basically the same protocols as well. We pretty much consider that we can do everything the human doctors can do,” said Dr. Mason.
That means they have a CAT scan for cats and dogs, digital x-ray capabilities and an MRI machine made especially for animals. “It’s actually one of only seven or eight in the country,” said Mason.
A pooch on the operating table is getting some screws put in his neck to fix a birth defect that made it hard for him to walk. Just a couple of days after the surgery, he was up and moving around.
The oncology room is the only one of its kind in southern Nevada. For animals like Autumn, the odds are pretty long, but at a minimum, the staff knows how to make her final days as pain free as possible.
“We can cure some of them, but for a lot of them it’s to buy more time, keep them comfortable and as good as can be for as long as possible,” said Dr. Mason.
The center has its own blood bank too, and has its own blood drives so there’s a supply on hand for dog and cat surgeries. Every day, gut-wrenching stories unfold but profound successes as well.
“I haven’t had one day as a veterinarian that I wished I did something different. Most of the time, with people’s attraction to their animals and the way they are to them, most people leave here smiling, so I think we’ve done a really good job,” said Mason.
One goal is to not even let the animals know they’re being treated for something — therapy disguised as chasing a ball around the backyard.
Xandor is a very special patient — a member of the Metro K9 Unit rehabbing a torn ACL. Over the next few months, Xandor will get to know Vet Tech Maria Shinas pretty well. The center is filled with shiny, high tech equipment, but it all boils down to caring people who got into the business because they love animals.
“My mind never stops working. Like even this morning, I’m thinking, ‘What do I have to do?’” said Shinas. “It’s very satisfying. This is a job we work intimately with the owners. They are right here with us and we show them the exercises to do right here at home and we feel good about it.”
As the glass tank fills with water, Xandor can barely contain his enthusiastic moans. He’s got a lockjaw grip of a green rubber kitty and seems to think this is a game, not therapy, even when the treadmill starts up.
“When he’s at work and out doing his thing, he’s a totally different dog,” said Xandor’s handler, Metro K9 Officer Rick Vorce.
And it’s his work that led Xandor to the center. He and Vorce are key members of the nationally ranked K9 unit, who often partner with Metro’s SWAT Team. Xander is a 10-year-old Belgian Malinois, a very serious hombre when he’s on duty.
“In the six years we’ve been together, he’s found about 80 bad guys, anywhere from people who’ve committed murder, bank robbers, car thieves, burglars,” said Vorce.
While in pursuit of stabbing suspect a few months ago, Xandor got a little carried away and tore his ACL. “He decided to play wonder dog and he decided to jump over my head and said, ‘Look Dad, I can fly,’” said Vorce.
He cornered the bad guy but was lame days later. Vorce took him to the vet, the vet referred him to the center.
“Frankly, if I was in trouble, I’d want him to rescue me. I have a special place in my heart for Xandor,” said Shinas.
After a dip and a treadmill trot, Xandor is given a multi-person massage — we should all have days like this. Then officer Vorce puts him thru some paces in a makeshift obstacle course.
Down the hall, one of Xandor’s K9 colleagues is grappling with a different challenge. His name is Rosco, and he’s got a nose for trouble.
“When you pass a dumpster, you smell trash. The dog will pass a dumpster and he’ll smell every individual odor in there. He’ll smell what toppings are on that piece of pizza on the top of the trash. He’ll smell the dirty diaper, the tennis shoe,” said Metro K9 Officer Scott Murray.
Roscoe, a 10-year-old Springer Spaniel, is a superstar drug sniffer, able to ferret out the most secretive hiding places. Like the other K9 officers, Murray lives with his police dogs. He and Officer Vorce spend more time with their canine partners than with their spouses, and they learn to deal with the good and the bad.
For Roscoe, the news is bad. “I was petting him on the couch one day and I was scratching the back of his leg and noticed a lump,” said Officer Murray.
The lump was cancer — lymphoma.
Veterinarian Andrew Vaughan has been overseeing chemotherapy for Roscoe. The trickiest part for a dog like this one is to make sure the treatment isn’t worse than the disease. It’s important that Roscoe is able to keep on working, not only for the community, but for himself.
“So much of their life is spent working, so we try to make sure they don’t lose that component of their lifestyle because that’s what they love doing. That’s what they live for,” said Dr. Vaughan.
Both Roscoe and Xandor are at an age when some departments retire their dogs, especially dogs that have serious health issues. Officer Murray says there was never a question of getting rid of these two. “Our department is very supportive of hurt animals. They don’t just throw them under the bus,” he said.
The Vet Referral Center sees a lot of injured police dogs. Some of the treatments and therapies can be expensive, but the alternative could be more costly. “Getting those animals back to work and not having to buy new dogs and train them, it’s a huge benefit to the taxpayers as well,” said Dr. Mason.
Not to mention that it’s great to have these guys around.
Since this story was taped, Xandor is already back at work and tracking down suspects. Roscoe is still taking it easy but his handler says he could be back on the job very soon. The chemotherapy hasn’t affected his ability to sniff out crime.
Two Las Vegas police officers who were seriously hurt after being shocked by Taser weapons in 2003 have sued its makers, saying the company failed to properly warn the department about the potential for injury.
About a dozen officers around the country have made similar claims in suing Taser International Inc., questioning the company’s safety claims.
A third Las Vegas officer sued Taser but settled last year. Terms were not disclosed.
The Las Vegas police department has stopped a practice of shocking officers during training. During training, officers had been told that they couldn’t truly understand the weapon until they had been shocked by it.
“I have to tell you that I have a different understanding of that weapon than folks that have never been Tased,” said police detective Marcus Martin, the department’s lead Taser instructor. “But as training went on what started occurring is we started having officers getting hurt. So it was a policy decision that was made at the higher levels of the agency as to should we allow folks to be Tased and get hurt. It’s a cost-benefit analysis.”
According to court filings, the officers suing believe that Taser International understated to police the risks of being shocked.
Taser warns that its device can cause burns that can become infected. It also says people who are shocked by the weapons can suffer bone fractures, dislocations, ruptures and hernias. The company suggests that officers shocked during training lie face-down on the floor to minimize threats of falling and of being shocked in the eyes. Taser says the injury risk is comparable to athletic injuries.
In a suit filed earlier this month in U.S. District Court in Nevada, lawyers for officer Lisa Peterson said she suffered “life-changing injuries to her neck, jaw, shoulder and back” when she was shocked with a Taser during mandatory training.
Las Vegas police officers fired Tasers 432 times in the field in 2007.
LAS VEGAS — For those Valley residents who may still be looking for a job, the Metro Police Department wants you to know they are still hiring.
There are two more testing dates to enter the correctional officer and police officer training sessions scheduled for November.
For those people interested in working as a correctional officer, they will need to be in Hall B at Cashman Field beginning at 8 a.m. Monday. Those people interested in becoming Metro police officers should be at the same location at 8 a.m. on Nov. 12 and Dec. 9.
The hiring process is divided into four stages: recruitment, selection training, background testing and final review. During the process, candidates are exposed to the “realism” of criminal interaction, physical training and law education.
Those who are accepted as a Metro police officer can earn more than $53,000 after their first year on the force.
Applications are being accepted online. For more information, visit the Protect the City Web site.