Exploring Police Reform Efforts, Challenges In Washoe County

Jul 6, 2020

The City of Reno held a virtual town hall on June 22 with top county law enforcement officials to discuss a study on policing in Washoe County. The study was completed back in 2018 by the Guinn Center, a nonprofit, bipartisan organization. Town hall participants examined what work has been done to improve community policing since the study was released, along with what work remains to be done. KUNR’s Jayden Perez spoke with Nancy Brune, executive director of the Guinn Center, to learn more.

Perez: The report is 92 pages, and I looked through some of it, but what were some of the most critical things that you found?

Brune: I think that some of the concerns really had to do with community trust. So one of the big recommendations in the 21st century policing report was the recommendation that law enforcement agencies [set] up a community advisory council. And again, some of the law enforcement agencies had already adopted this recommendation. So Reno Police Department, for example, had two community advisory councils that collaborated with the chief of police. Sparks Police, however, did not and still does not have a community advisory council. So when I interviewed community members, that was their biggest source of contention. It was clear that the community was frustrated that Sparks Police had not [set] up a community advisory council even though several community members had, in fact, requested that they do so.

Perez: After attending the town hall, what did you feel like were the biggest improvements that were made, and the biggest thing that could still be worked on?

Brune: So it seems as though all of the agencies have taken real measures to be more transparent about the data that they put out and share with the public. Whether it be data around actual operations, such as how many traffic stops or arrests they make and by demographic data, as well as putting on the web information about the different policies. They all seem to have also done more to clarify and push information out about immigrant-specific policies, which was also a source of concern when we did the report a few years ago.

I think there are still some challenges that have to do in the assessment of training. I know that’s a big concern for many folks who are in these conversations. I would say that all of the law enforcement agencies do require training above and beyond what POST [the Nevada Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training] requires, and all the officers do receive implicit bias training, but I would argue that it’s not just the training. We actually need to have an external evaluator come in and make sure that the training is high quality, and actually the officers who go through the training are being measured, or the information that they learn is being measured against those performance metrics. So I think there is still a conversation that needs to be had around what are the anticipated outcomes from an officer or officers going through the different types of training.

Perez: Were you surprised by any of the findings?

Brune: I will say, when I took this honor when the task force approached us, I naively thought, ‘Well this should be pretty easy, right? It’s a small community, even though there are three law enforcement agencies.’ I quickly found out that even though the region is small in terms of comparison with Clark County, they are three very different agencies with different cultures and different receptions from the community at large. So it was interesting to see where one agency was sort of a leader [in] one aspect, other agencies were ahead in different areas.

For example, Reno Police at the time was reporting more of its data on its website, either data around its policies or actual data about its operations. Whereas Washoe County was not doing that. In contrast, Washoe County, the Sheriff’s Office, was a leader in thinking more creatively about how to expand access for the potential pool of recruits. So they, for example, were the first to move to a year-round application, they were the first to allow for an applicant to retake the physical test if they failed the first time, which our data shows was a real barrier to getting people through the application process. So it was just interesting to see the differences. I think that was one of the biggest surprises for our research team.

Jayden Perez is a senior at the Reynolds School of Journalism.