The Nevada Open Government Coalition is urging our state lawmakers during the upcoming second Special Session to join states across the country to address urgent problems with public trust in police transparency and accountability.
Unfortunately, Nevada is among the least transparent states when it comes to law enforcement accountability. This can be attributed to statutes which deny public access to information about investigations of alleged misconduct as well as a culture of disregard and disrespect—particularly among law enforcement agencies—for the Nevada Public Records Act.
The NOGC urges the Nevada Legislature to make three commonsense changes to Nevada law during the special session to immediately improve public access and police accountability:
1. Clarify NRS 239.005 (“Definitions”) regarding “actual cost” to cease illegal and excessive demands for fees for records, including body worn camera (BWC) footage
News media have recently reported that Las Vegas Metro Police raised fees for the release of BWC footage to an astonishing $280 per video hour. The fee applies regardless of the labor required to review and redact the video requested. LVMPD has connected this fee to the salaries and benefits of detectives who process the requests. Fees in other jurisdictions range from $0 (Henderson) to $28/hour (Reno). Exorbitant fees for BWC footage reduce public access to crucial public records and their inconsistent application shows a need for clarity in the law. Under current Nevada law, any records requester who wishes to challenge these fees must file a potentially costly and time-consuming lawsuit, which also sap taxpayer funding from law enforcement budgets.
We propose the following (blue text to be added to existing statute, red text to be eliminated):
NRS 239.005 Definitions. As used in this chapter, unless the context otherwise requires:
1. “Actual cost” means the direct cost incurred by a governmental entity in the provision of a public record, including, without limitation, the cost of ink, toner, paper, media and postage. The term does not include a cost that a governmental entity incurs regardless of whether or not a person requests a copy of a particular public record. The term also does not include any costs whatsoever to search, retrieve, or redact public records.
2. Improve transparency surrounding law enforcement disciplinary and misconduct proceedings codified in NRS 289.020 and NRS 289.080
Excessive secrecy in the internal processes of law enforcement agencies—including disciplinary proceedings—tips the balance in favor of government officials who already wield tremendous power in our communities and erodes public trust in law enforcement. The public has a right to know which officers have been alleged to engage in misconduct—as well as their histories and the history of how law enforcement handled allegations against them.
We propose the following (highlighted text to be added to existing statute, strikethrough text to be eliminated):
NRS 289.020 Punitive action prohibited for exercise of rights under internal procedure; opportunity for hearing; right to representation; refusal to cooperate in criminal investigation punishable as insubordination; use of compelled statements.
5. Except as otherwise provided in this subsection, any statement a peace officer is compelled to make pursuant to this chapter shall not be disclosed or used in a civil case against the peace officer without the consent of the peace officer. Such a statement may be used in an administrative hearing or civil case regarding the employment of the peace officer. In a civil case, the court may review the statement in camera to determine whether the statement is inconsistent with the testimony of the peace officer and release any inconsistent statement to the opposing party for purposes of impeachment.
NRS 289.080 Right to presence and assistance of representatives at interview, interrogation or hearing relating to investigation; confidential information; disclosure; record of interview, interrogation or hearing; right of subject of investigation to review and copy investigation file upon appeal.
6. Any information that a representative obtains from the peace officer who is a witness concerning the investigation is confidential and must not be disclosed by the representative.
7. Any information that a representative obtains from the peace officer who is the subject of the investigation is confidential and must not be disclosed by the representative except upon the:
(a) Request of the peace officer; or
(b) Lawful order of a court of competent jurisdiction.
3. Make the proceedings of citizen review boards public under NRS 289.387
NRS 289.380 allows for the creation of “a review board by ordinance to advise the governing body on issues concerning peace officers, school police officers, constables and deputies of constables within the city or county.” Although only Clark County currently has such a board, communities across the state are likely to create more of them amid calls for reform. Although the findings and recommendations of these boards are public by law, their proceedings are not.
We propose the following (strikethrough text to be eliminated from existing statute):
NRS 289.387 Panel of board: Selection of members; powers and duties; proceedings; rights of officer investigated.
9. The findings and recommendation of a panel of the review board are public records unless otherwise declared confidential by state or federal law.
10. A proceeding of a panel of such a review board is closed to the public.
We are hopeful that the outpouring of public frustration and anguish of the past weeks can serve to illuminate a path forward for better police accountability and transparency across Nevada.
The Nevada Open Government Coalition is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization supporting democratic government accountability through transparency. The diverse coalition educates, advocates, and empowers civic engagement in Nevada through increased access to government information processes, and public understanding of public records laws, open meetings laws, and other issues related to open government.