In almost an instant, Joe Lombardo became a familiar face around the world last October after the unthinkable happened: A gunman opened fire right on the Las Vegas Strip.
The Clark County sheriff, visibly anguished, nevertheless stood strong at televised press conferences in the days and weeks following the attack.
A 30-year veteran of law enforcement, Lombardo looks back at the coverage of the 1 October tragedy and says he tried to keep people “calm” in the aftermath of the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
“Yes, there was mass media, generating an intense interest in the latest information. Consequently, I felt it was my role – my responsibility –to bring a level of calm to the confusion,” Lombardo tells Vegas Legal Magazine. “That was my intent in the aftermath, and in early briefings about the shooting.”
Stephen Paddock, the alleged shooter, is believed to be the lone gunman who took the lives of 58 people – mostly Route 91 Harvest Festival country music concert goers – and wounded hundreds of others. Paddock had a small arsenal in his room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort. Paddock would ultimately take his own life, right after the massacre.
The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, or Metro, was also grieving the loss of Metro police officer Charleston Hartfield, who was killed while off-duty at the Route 91 concert.
Lombardo had started his own career in law enforcement with Metro in 1988. He drew from years of experience in crisis situations he had encountered while with Metro.
“I think I, like many leaders who have been pressed into an impossible chaotic situation, reacted based upon my previous experiences and training,” he explains. “Metro has been tested before, and in handling major critical incidents, we learned from those experiences. You try the best you can to use the practical knowledge that you have gained in a career, and to remember other occurrences that have made an impression on you.”
The 1 October Effect
The Clark County Sheriff did take away some lessons from the tragedy of 1 October, though. Las Vegas, as the Entertainment Capital of the World, has long been mentioned as a possible terrorist target. And this past spring, a report of an armed masked man at the Boulevard Mall resulted in a massive – and immediate – police response. Fortunately, that masked suspect was found to only have a replica of an actual gun, and no one was hurt.
“I believe 1 October, like 9/11, will cause us to be more vigilant to security concerns. In public safety, it is important to think in terms of, ‘It happens tomorrow.’ The ‘It’, or the scenarios, are many—whether it’s an active assailant, a major fire, or an earthquake; the list can go on-and-on,” Lombardo says.
Just as past aviation disasters have ultimately resulted in much-safer planes, tragedies can often lead to more precautionary measures. But acts of evil by individuals are constantly morphing. Criminal minds will often turn to new ways of causing mayhem.
Lombardo says Metro is doing its best to take the lessons from the 1 October shooting, and its response, and use those lessons to make Las Vegas safer.
“Though we can’t anticipate every critical incident before it happens, there are many lessons we have learned that we need to apply,” the sheriff responds. “We have to do our best to incorporate those lessons into our training and our responses. We have to continue to test ourselves, striving to get better.”
Part of this effort to improve crisis-response includes a “full-scale training exercise” at local schools, Lombardo says. The training was designed to assess how Southern Nevada’s first responders would work together during a crisis, such as an active shooter.
“At (Metro), we have been a leader in pushing this type of training and readiness,” Lombardo explains.
The Making Of A Sheriff
Joe Lombardo’s family moved to Las Vegas in 1976, when Joe was in his early teens. He would go on to get his bachelor’s degree from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. (Lombardo would also later earn his master’s degree from UNLV, in 2006). But after completing his undergraduate degree from the university, Lombardo came to the conclusion that a traditional 9-to-5 job was just not for him.
“After graduating from UNLV, I took my first steps into the business world and I quickly realized that I did not want to work behind a desk all my life; I wanted something that was more exciting and adventurous,” Lombardo recalls.
After joining Metro in 1988, the young Joe Lombardo craved the excitement of being a cop on the beat, fighting crime.
“Early in my police career, I found that I loved the action, being on the streets, and the rush of adrenaline that comes with responding to crimes. I was hooked,” he reminisces now. “There was nothing more gratifying than putting handcuffs on a violent criminal, who had been preying upon the community.”
Lombardo was rising through the ranks at Metro, and gaining recognition. He was promoted to police sergeant in 1996. During that time as sergeant, Lombardo would be awarded the Meritorious Service Award for outstanding service to the Las Vegas community. A promotion to lieutenant would follow in 2001, and by 2006, Lombardo was named captain. He would serve as bureau commander for the Southwest Area Command before becoming the bureau commander for homeland security.
The rise of Joe Lombardo continued in 2008, when he was appointed deputy chief, and served as division commander of support operations. Lombardo would climb to division commander of the patrol division, where he oversaw Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT), among other divisions. In 2011, Lombardo was appointed assistant sheriff. Finally, in 2014, Lombardo retired from Metro after 26 years and was elected sheriff of Clark County.
This June, Lombardo bested a handful of opponents in the race for sheriff and was re-elected to a second term. The victory was by all measures, a landslide.
The Sheriff’s Plans For Keeping Las Vegas Safe
With an election campaign behind him, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo can focus all his attention on what has been his main aim since he became a police officer in 1988: Keeping Las Vegas safe.
“My number one goal remains the same – reducing violent crime,” the sheriff maintains. “As a law enforcement agency, abating crime is our primary responsibility. To this point, we have to do everything we can to make out neighborhoods safe.”
Having worked in law enforcement for 30 years, Lombardo says he understands the trauma that victims of crime experience.
“Each battery, each robbery, each homicide has a story behind it, where someone was hurt or lost their life,” the sheriff explains.
A significant amount of calls to which police respond involve people suffering from mental health issues. Lombardo is trying to improve on training, so that his officers can better handle these difficult situations and get mentally ill individuals the help they need.
“My other priority this next term will be identifying and developing resources to address the increase in mental health issues as they relate to law enforcement,” the sheriff reveals. “This is a huge societal problem that police have to deal with, when it’s really not a crime issue.”
Las Vegas is a city known for its big events, and for drawing millions of tourists. That means the role of a sheriff like Joe Lombardo is keeping both locals and tourists safe from harm. That job now also includes rebuilding the sense of security that so many people in Las Vegas lost after the 1 October shooting.
Lombardo pledges to balance security concerns with Las Vegas’ fun atmosphere, which visitors expect: “In my opinion, no other city is as well practiced,” he notes. “That said, there is a tremendous amount of planning, collaboration and work that goes into providing the right environment – one that is lively and enjoyable for visitors while making certain there is freedom from danger.”
Placing officers along the resort corridor, while working to reduce crime in the city’s residential areas, are among the ways Lombardo says that law enforcement is trying to ease the concerns of both locals and tourists.
“I am confident that our city is a ‘safe city’ that can be appreciated by everyone.”
Vegas Legal Magazine: The Las Vegas Valley has seen an increase in violent crimes, (excluding the 1 October shooting massacre). Can you talk about the measures your department is taking to combat this crime surge, such as recreating the gang crimes unit last year?
Joe Lombardo: Last year our jurisdiction saw a drop in violent crime while our total population rose. This year, we have seen significant reductions in the number of robberies, but are still seeking improvements in other areas, such as homicides and sexual assaults.
For impacting crime, I believe police officers make a difference; the presence of a uniformed cop or a black-and-white patrol car in a neighborhood deters crime, and with that said, (the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police, or LVMPD) recently attained the threshold of two officers per 1,000 residents. This is a significant achievement for us in bolstering our ranks. Today, we are seeing the benefits from the decentralization of detectives that were pushed out to the area commands. These two developments have put more officers in neighborhoods, preventing crime before it happens, and at the other end, following up on investigations. Adding a centralized gang unit has allowed us to concentrate our efforts and resources on the most problematic gangs — the ones committing the most crimes and violence. As a result, we have had success in taking down the hierarchy found in these criminal rings.
VLM: Prior to the Nevada Supreme Court ruling to begin releasing records and body camera footage from the 1 October mass shooting, Metro was criticized by many media outlets for not releasing all the 1 October mass-shooting related records. Can you explain the reasoning for your stance against releasing all that information at the current time?
JL: First, I do not believe it appropriate to release information when an investigation is not closed. Second, I believed that many of the records, such as the video footage, would negatively impact victims and officers. There is an emotional shock found in watching the footage and reading the reports about 1 October, and for the many people involved, it has been very difficult to move on from the event.
In addition, there have been substantial logistical hurdles to complying with the ruling. The volume of information is staggering, and it has required reassigning employees to sift through the thousands of hours of video and hundreds of reports. The costs in preparing and handing over the records is significant; approximately 20 employees have been pulled from their day-to-day duties to work on the records request. This impacts our operations.
VLM: Can you discuss the ways in which Metro is working with federal immigration officials?
JL: We participate in the jail-based 287 (g) program, where we have cross-deputized a select group of detention officers to help strengthen public safety by prioritizing the arrest and detention of criminal immigrants. We do not participate in immigration enforcement in the field.
VLM: Going forward, after Las Vegas experienced the deadliest mass in shooting in modern U.S. history last October, how would you reassure both local residents and tourists that Las Vegas is still a “safe city”?
JL: Las Vegas is renowned as the “Entertainment Capital of the World.” Throughout our history, we have hosted thousands of mega-events where we have successfully managed safety and security concerns. In my opinion, no other city is as well-practiced. That said, there is a tremendous amount of planning, collaboration and work that goes into providing the right environment—one that is lively and enjoyable for visitors while making certain there is freedom from danger.
To this end, LVMPD continues to partner with private businesses; federal, state, and local law enforcement; elected officials; and other public agencies to ensure that we are maintaining a vigilance against all threats. Concurrently, we have been successful in placing more officers along the resort corridor and yet still, in our neighborhoods. They are making a difference. Despite recent trends experienced by other major cities, violent crime in our jurisdiction is moving in the right direction—it has fallen. In closing, I want our community to know that your department is committed to the motto of “to protect and to serve.” I am confident that our city is a “safe city” that can be appreciated by everyone.
Valerie Miller is a Las Vegas Valley-based journalist. She can be reached at (702) 683-3986 or firstname.lastname@example.org.