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October 23, 2014

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Powerful sheriff position up for grabs in June primary

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Steve Marcus

Sheriff Doug Gillespie poses at his office in Metro Police Headquarters Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014.

The list of Clark County’s most powerful politicians starts with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Clark County Chairman Steve Sisolak.

But the person who fills the sheriff’s seat in this year’s election will be close behind them.

Consider this: The Clark County sheriff is charged with protecting 2 million people, billions of dollars worth of Strip properties and 39.7 million tourists. The sheriff leads the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department’s more than 2,000 officers and oversees 650 squad cars, 22 helicopters and a network of surveillance cameras.

Politically, current Sheriff Doug Gillespie was popular enough that in 2010 he earned more Clark County votes (about 267,000) than Reid (about 254,000) or Gov. Brian Sandoval (about 224,000).

The county’s next sheriff will face a fresh set of challenges compared with what Gillespie encountered when he was elected in 2006: Ongoing political debates over how to fund law enforcement, rising costs for staff salaries and benefits, and the start of medical marijuana sales.

Nine candidates applied for the job. We’re profiling the four with the most experience and support in the June 10 primary campaign: Larry Burns, a former Metro captain who retired in December; Robert Gronauer, a private investigator and former constable and Metro police officer; Joe Lombardo, assistant sheriff; and Ted Moody, former Metro assistant sheriff who retired in August.

The two candidates with the most votes in the nonpartisan race will advance to the November general election.

    • Lawrence "Larry" Burns

      Larry Burns has the union vote. He has been endorsed by the Police Protective Association, the union that represents many Metro officers and four other police unions: middle management; civilian employees; school police and an association that represents police in legislative matters.

      Age: 56

      Police work history: Metro, 27 years

      Education: High school graduate

      Would you oppose or support legalizing marijuana for recreational use: Undecided

      Last book read: “Man’s Search for Meaning”

      In an election where low turnout is expected, those few thousand union members represent a powerful voting bloc. Burns said he appreciates the support but would not be beholden to the union members.

      “I’m not looking for a favor from anyone,” he said. “This town has large issues, and when I say (I want to be a) partner with the community, I mean partners with every part of the community. I exclude no one.”

      Burns retired from Metro in December as a captain. During his tenure, the sheriff appointed him as executive lieutenant for two years. Asked how he differs from Gillespie, he said he would develop stronger relationships with the community and his officers.

      “What Metro comes down to in 2014, it’s all about relationships and the way we establish them and maintain them,” Burns said.

      So what kind of cop was he?

      “I was a SWAT commander for seven years, and I wasn’t sued in those seven years,” he said. “I lived by this mantra: ‘Do what is right, and let the consequences follow.’ It’s about integrity and everybody knowing your soul is not for sale, and you live by the credo that there is something greater than yourself.”

    • Robert "Bobby G" Gronauer

      After working 24 years at Metro, Robert Gronauer knows a lot of people in Clark County law enforcement.

      Age: 67

      Police work history: Metro, 24 years; Baltimore police, five years

      Education: High school graduate

      Would you oppose or support legalizing marijuana for recreational use: Oppose

      Last book read: “Leadership Lessons of Ulysses S. Grant”

      Unfortunately for Gronauer, knowing a lot of people won’t pay the bills in his campaign for sheriff, and he acknowledges his fundraising won’t keep pace with his competitors.

      Will his goodwill be enough to propel him to the sheriff’s seat?

      “I’ve been a success in everything I’ve done,” he said.

      Gronauer believes something needs to change at the sheriff’s office. He started his campaign with the question: What can Metro do better? After hundreds of calls and emails, Gronauer said areas for improvement fell into three categories:

      • Metro is elitist. “That’s not the Metro I came from. I changed more tires for people than you want to know,” he said.

      • Metro feels militarized. An Afghanistan veteran told him: “After four tours, I come back (to Las Vegas) and feel like I’m in a military occupation zone.”

      • Metro is slow to respond. “People tell me they call Metro, and no one ever calls back,” he said.

      Gronauer left Metro as a sergeant in 1999, the year he was elected Las Vegas constable, a position responsible for serving civil court documents and eviction notices.

      As sheriff, Gronauer said he would use Metro’s cadets to respond to fender-benders. The department stopped the practice in March.

      “It doesn’t take much to learn how to take a minor property accident report,” he said.

      He also wants to see more diversity in the department.

      “We need more Asians, blacks, females and Latinos,” he said. “We have a nearly all-white-boy group running things.”

    • Joseph "Joe" Lombardo

      Assistant Sheriff Joe Lombardo has been called “the anointed one.” He won an endorsement from Sheriff Doug Gillespie and enjoys strong support from the city’s gaming interests. He reported raising $503,000 in campaign funds, with $10,000 contributions from several gaming companies.

      Age: 51

      Police work history: Metro, 25 years

      Education: UNLV bachelor of science; UNLV master of science in crisis and emergency management

      Would you oppose or support legalizing marijuana for recreational use: Oppose

      Last book read: “Collaborate or Perish!: Reaching Across Boundaries in a Networked World”

      Lombardo calls Gillespie a man of “great integrity” but has tried to distance himself from the sheriff. Lombardo said Gillespie “created an environment of micromanagement. Middle management, lieutenants and captains have lost their autonomy or ability to govern and lead.”

      As sheriff, Lombardo said he would “take the responsibility but give them more autonomy.” That would help change what he calls Metro’s “archaic” method of investigating crimes against people.

      Metro investigations are divided into two categories: property crimes and crimes against people. About 10 years ago, statistics showed property criminals tended to work in similar areas. So the department put investigators closer to the street, and investigators’ response became faster and more effective.

      But investigations for crimes against people remain centralized.

      “Why can’t we stick those detectives out there in those area commands and have them respond as fast as they do with property crimes?” Lombardo said.

      Lombardo said Gillespie also made good changes that he wants to keep.

      The U.S. Department of Justice, for instance, issued a report in 2012 critical of shootings by Metro officers. Since then, sanctions against police officers by the department’s Use of Force Review Board are up and shootings are down, Lombardo said.

    • Ted Moody

      Ted Moody’s endorsement by the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce was big. The chamber has 6,000 members and has pressed local and state public agencies to rein in employee salaries.

      Age: 52

      Police history: Metro, 30 years

      Education: UNLV bachelor of arts in psychology; Naval Postgraduate School, master of arts in security studies

      Would you oppose or support legalizing marijuana for recreational use: Support

      Last book read: “Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Force”

      That speaks to the heart of Moody’s campaign. He spoke out against the “More Cops” sales tax initiative that Clark County commissioners eventually voted down.

      Although he won support from business leaders, Moody isn’t endorsed by the Police Protective Association that represents Metro’s rank-and-file officers. Moody takes that as a compliment.

      “They’re not thinking intellectually,” he said. “They’re not thinking what’s in the best interest of their members in the future.”

      Moody said his focus on improving accountability will decrease the likelihood of future problems that could lead to another federal review.

      In response to police shootings in 2010 and 2011, the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services recommended dozens of changes. The sheriff named Moody chairman of Metro’s Critical Incident Review Process. In that role, Moody said, he overhauled a review board that provides oversight of officers’ use of force.

      But in 2013, Moody and five board members quit over the sheriff’s refusal to approve their recommendation to fire an officer who shot an unarmed man in the leg.

      As to his fiscal stance, Moody said the department has areas that could be pared back.

      “We do not have to raise taxes to get more officers on the street,” he said. “And we need strong leadership to deal with police union contracts.”

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