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Reno to train police officers to intervene if colleague uses excessive force

By Carla O'Day
Published: Last Updated on

Reno police chief Jason Soto, who recently took over as acting city manager, told the City Council on Wednesday that he’s directed those at the helm of the police department to review its use-of-force policy.

The move comes after a death in Minneapolis, which has sparked outrage nationwide. After reportedly trying to use a counterfeit $20 bill May 25, George Floyd was handcuffed on the ground. An officer then knelt on his neck while three others looked on.

Chief Jason Soto
Acting City Manager and Reno Police Chief Jason Soto

“As I watched the (video of) the senseless killing of George Floyd, I was every bit as disturbed by the lack of intervention,” Soto said. “So I have directed our acting police chief to begin crafting a policy into which our officers are required to intervene if they witness another officer using excessive force.”

Nationwide protests, calling for an end to police violence against minorities, particularly African Americans, followed Floyd’s death.

Black Lives Matter organized a protest in downtown Reno early Saturday afternoon. The largely peaceful event turned violent in the evening as some people broke windows at city hall, the federal courthouse, local businesses, and set a vehicle on fire, generating a citywide curfew.

“I recognize you were all peaceful protesting,” Soto said. “I watched, I listened and I was extremely impressed how you carried yourself and how you expressed yourself.”

Soto said he’s working on organizing a community-wide forum so police, along with the public, stakeholders, and other municipal agencies, can collaborate.

Councilwoman Naomi Duerr said a forum is a good start, although the dialogue needs to be ongoing. She said she was proud that so many people showed up Sunday morning to help clean up the destruction from the prior night.

“I have been heartbroken for our country,” Duerr said. “I try to keep my focus on city council business and city issues, not national politics, but it was hard to miss when George Floyd’s death occurred.”

Councilman Oscar Delgado said the time for soft talk is over and that the community has been moving too slow. After some officer-involved shootings in mostly minority neighborhoods throughout the nation several years ago, Delgado said he and Washoe County School District trustee Angela Taylor spearheaded a task force in 2016 with local law enforcement to examine issues locally.

Delgado said the recommendations in the 2015 President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing were addressed and it resulted in the “Community Policing in Northern Nevada” report, which was published in 2018 by the Kenny C. Guinn Center for Policy Priorities.

The report had several recommendations, including increased training for law enforcement in areas of cultural diversity, deescalation tactics, and seeking community input, Delgado said. The report identified gaps in current policies and procedures within the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office and Reno and Sparks police departments and addressed proposed actions for filling gaps.

“What I found and what the majority of the community has found, is that when the cameras went away and when protests died down, it was difficult to get my colleagues and community members to continue making these issues a priority and it fell by the wayside,” Delgado said.

Governor Steve Sisolak on Thursday released a video message to Nevadans addressing the recent protests and the systemic racism and injustice Black and minority communities face. In the video he said he is looking for real change, rather than to “drift back to the status quo,” as he said has been one in the past.

At one point addressing both the community and legislative leaders he said, “Over the past few days, I’ve had the opportunity to speak to many of you individually, and we have scheduled a few group meetings as well. I look forward to meaningful dialogue that leads to real change.  I also look forward to signing legislation next session that comes from these conversations.”

On Sunday Attorney General Aaron D. Ford will host a panel discussion with some of the State’s legislative leaders on current legislation relating to the death of George Floyd and other deaths around the country resulting from law enforcement action. The panelists will also discuss the introduction of new legislation to help keep Nevada’s communities safe.

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