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July 25, 2014

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obituary:

As police chief, Ray Sheffer improved training, later worked on the Strip and prompted the use of AC in cabs

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Former police chief Ray Sheffer stands in front of the Las Vegas Police Station in 1959.

Ray Sheffer

Ray Sheffer

When he was the Las Vegas police chief, Ray K. Sheffer started the first police academy in the valley and was one of several local government officials who attended the March 1960 meeting at the Moulin Rouge, where an accord was reached to end segregation of Strip hotels.

As chief of security at the Desert Inn in the early 1960s, he discovered and removed all the bugging devices that the federal government had illegally planted in the resort to gather information about mob ties.

As the Nevada Taxicab Authority’s executive administrator in the early 1970s, he made strides in getting mandatory air conditioning for all cabs and ending the practice of the authority’s board holding closed-door meetings to conduct business.

Sheffer, who even found time to advise the Rat Pack on the accuracy of its script for “Ocean’s Eleven” that was filmed in Las Vegas in 1960, died Wednesday of heart failure at a hospice near his home in Friday Harbor, Wash. He was 87.

A memorial for the Southern Nevada resident of more than 40 years and Washington state resident of 39 years will be 1 p.m. March 17 at Friday Harbor Presbyterian Church. No Las Vegas services are planned.

“My father was passionate about people, whether it was running the sheriff’s department, helping to integrate the Strip or improving the working conditions for cabdrivers,” said daughter Susie Brunk of Redmond, Wash., a former longtime Las Vegan.

Sheffer was chief of the Las Vegas Police Department from 1956 to 1960 — then 109 members strong. The LVPD merged with the Clark County Sheriff’s Department on July 1, 1973, to form Metro Police, which is headed by an elected sheriff.

Sheffer was a longtime close friend of late Sheriff John Moran.

“Ray was a very strong leader — a foundation building block of the police department,” said Moran’s son, Las Vegas attorney John Moran Jr. “He was a consummate lawman.”

After leaving Las Vegas in 1973, Sheffer was the longtime sheriff of the San Juan Islands in Washington.

Sheffer had resigned as LVPD chief in the wake of a grand jury investigation that found that some officers were members of a burglary ring. Sheffer fired them.

Almost immediately, Desert Inn boss Moe Dalitz hired Sheffer to run security at the resort, where Sheffer used his police skills to sniff out wiretapping devices.

Resort officials also found illegally planted bugs at the Stardust, Riviera, Dunes, Fremont and Sands, which led to an embarrassing lawsuit against the FBI and the contamination of potential mob prosecutions.

Ray K. Sheffer stands in front of the Stardust, circa 1965

Ray K. Sheffer stands in front of the Stardust, circa 1965

Sheffer left the DI as administrative director in 1967 after reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes bought the Strip resort. Sheffer was executive director of the Stardust from 1967 to 1969.

Born in Harmony, Ark., on Nov. 15, 1924, Sheffer and his family moved to Searchlight and then to Henderson. He graduated from Las Vegas High, where he played football, and served in the Navy in the South Pacific during World War II.

Sheffer returned to Las Vegas after the war, joining the LVPD in August 1948. He was appointed chief on May 2, 1956. At age 31, he was one of the youngest police chiefs in the nation. Sheffer is credited with starting the police academy in 1959.

In 1960, black community leaders met with Sheffer and other city and county officials to talk about alternatives to a planned civil rights march down the Strip that could have resulted in negative publicity for Southern Nevada.

“My father pushed for integration,” Brunk said of the meeting where the march was called off in exchange for a promise by Strip resort officials to immediately implement steps to allow blacks and other minorities as guests.

In 1959, Rat Pack member Peter Lawford brought Sheffer the script for the original "Ocean’s Eleven," starring Frank Sinatra, about a group of World War II buddies planning to rob five Strip casinos in one night.

Brunk said the Rat Pack sought her father’s expertise as a law enforcement officer on whether the film would accurately depict how a group of men would go about robbing such resorts.

In 1971, Sheffer was appointed by then-Gov. Mike O’Callaghan to serve as executive administrator of the taxi authority that had been formed in 1969. One of his first duties was ending eight straight months of the authority holding board meetings behind closed doors, making it more transparent.

One of his last acts as executive director in May 1973 was to place on the agenda an item to implement air conditioning in cabs with a rate increase to finance the equipment. Also under his watch, a defensive driving course was implemented for new drivers and veteran cabbies.

In retirement in Washington, Sheffer often would spend long, leisurely afternoons watching from the deck of his house killer whales at play in the harbor waters.

In addition to his daughter, Sheffer is survived by his wife of 46 years, the former Diana Ince of Friday Harbor; a son, Ray Sheffer Jr., a daughter, Alanna Gonzalez of Issaquah, Wash., two stepdaughters, Cindy Creel of Issaquah and Christy Creel of Las Vegas; five grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

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  1. What a colorful life he had. I'm sure his family is proud. If they are reading this, my deepest condolences.

  2. As chief, Sheffer actually fired some members of the police department who were found to be involved in a burglary ring?
    That alone gives him high marks, and marks him as having a much different (better?) character than the his modern day counterparts.

  3. My father got was able to feed us because of that change about AC in cabs. The family business fixed AC and we would have never survived without the extra work. I don't know much about the guy but I'll remember that one change helped my family. To this day my family does<a href="http://www.lasvegas.ac"> AC repair</a>. Rest in peace Ray Sheffer. Many people remember you as a good man.

  4. I have many fond memories of my cousin Ray, from when I moved to Las Vegas in the mid-60s to work as an EG&G scientist at the Nuclear Rocket Development Station. He barely knew me then, but took me under his wing and introduced me to life on the Strip. To me and to everyone who met him, Ray was bigger than life. My wife Saundra and I last visited Ray and his wife Diana at their home on San Juan Island a few years ago, where we all went kayaking in Puget Sound. He was still the same happy, audacious Ray -- a living monument to life itself. The news of his death brought me my the first conscious realization that he was not immortal.