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Where do they stand?

Democratic congressional candidates running in Nevada speak on police reform

· News

From left to right, Congressional District 4 candidates: Amy Vilela, State Sen. Pat Spearman, Regent Allison Stephens, Steven Horsford and John Anzalone. John Anzalone speaks at a Democratic debate sponsored by NextGen America at Three Square in Las Vegas, NV, May 22, 2018. Photo by Jordan O'Brien

Reporting: Jordan O'Brien and Eduardo Rossal

Photos: Jordan O'Brien, Nissa Tzun, FTP Staff

LAS VEGAS, NV - This Tuesday, June 12, Nevada voters will choose which representatives should advance to the highly contentious midterm elections in November. Though some mainstream political pundits predict a ‘blue wave,’ the determining factor of whether or not the Democratic Party will flip Congress is highly dependent upon which Democrats advance in the primaries. Come November, will the electorate respond more favorably to centrist candidates endorsed by the Democratic establishment? Or will progressives in the vein of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and former Ohio State Sen. Nina Turner fare better? While a host of issues consume the national spotlight, Forced Trajectory Project reached out to several Democratic congressional candidates to elucidate where they stand on the issue of police reform.

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Reuban D'Silva (far right) speaks at the March for Our Lives Town Hall in Las Vegas, April 7, 2018. Photo by Nissa Tzun

Congressional District 1: Reuben D’Silva

D’Silva, a history teacher at Rancho High School, and a Purple Heart recipient, wants to address police violence through a cultural lens, and install programs to break down the walls of dissonance that society constructs around this issue. He points to cultural competency training he saw implemented in the Clark County School District, and how that has impacted teaching methods in regard to students of color. “If you have a kid of a different race and has (sic) a different way of interacting with authority, you…immediately think that he isn’t challenging authority or being a bad apple,” he says. According to D’Silva, this is the same dynamic that the police face. “We have to make investments at the national level to bring in folks from those communities and give them incentives to become police officers, so they can serve as bridges between law enforcement and the community,” he says, mentioning the disproportionate representation of Latinos in the district he is running in. According to the United States Census Bureau, 42.6% of District 1 is Hispanic. “Speaking as a brown man, we need to have more diversity in law enforcement,” he says. He further stated that there needs to be a program of neighborhood policing–something like what New York has already implemented. “In New York, they brought people from communities of color to police their communities,” he says. “We should learn from cities that have had successes in those areas of policing and make those policy changes to Metro.”

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Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev. Photo credit: Huffington Post, Facebook

Congressional District 1: Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., could not be reached for a comment.

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Michael Weiss speaks at the March for Our Lives Town Hall in Las Vegas, April 7, 2018. Photo by Jordan O'Brien

Congressional District 3: Michael Weiss

Pointing to his background in criminology, Weiss suggests that the root of police violence is systemic. “There is a culture within many police departments that effectively breed the type of…negative outcomes that we see,” he says. He believes more citizen oversight of police departments in conjunction with “sensitivity training” is the solution. While he recognizes the limitations of citizen oversight boards in regard to putting lawbreaking officers in prison, he believes their recommendations “can make sure they are kept off the streets.” “There are certain jobs that you (sic) got to be really good at–like pilots,” he says. Officers that “lack adequate training” should not be on the force. According to Weiss, police training should focus on diminishing negative stereotypes about diverse members of the community. “Every day we seem to see something on Facebook, or mainstream media…about somebody’s civil rights being violated or somebody getting shot,” he says. “The police are supposed to be protecting the rights of our citizens and keeping us safe.”

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Guy Pinjuv speaks at the March for Science in Las Vegas, April 14, 2018. Photo by Jordan O'Brien

Congressional District 3: Guy Pinjuv

In an email, Pinjuv said police violence is a problem that ultimately stems from the issue of racism in America. He did not respond with any solutions.

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Steven Schiffman (center) addresses a constituent at the March for Our Lives Townhall in Las Vegas, April 7, 2018. Photo by Jordan O'Brien

Congressional District 3: Steven Schiffman

In an email interview, Schiffman, a moderate, stated that he believes police violence is a problem, and that people who have been affected by it should file a civil complaint towards the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD), and the Sheriff’s Department. They should “demand to see any reports relating to the incident of unwarranted acts of violence,” he said. According to Schiffman, increasing the minimum educational requirements for police officers would be a “good start” for reform. “Improve psychological battery of test (sic) for admission to police program is another,” he added. In regard to the issue of police militarization, he stated that it was “warranted in some cases.” While John Ehrlichman, domestic policy advisor under President Nixon, stated in a 1994 interview with Harper Magazine that the war on drugs was instigated to target “anti-war left and black people,” Schiffman disagreed that those comments have anything to do with the high levels of people incarcerated for drug related offenses. According to Drug Policy Alliance, over a million Americans were arrested in 2016 for possession only. To combat the issue, he said he would “focus on those producing, importing, exporting, distributing and/or selling the ‘hard’ drugs; (sic) with less penalties on those purchasing ‘hard’ drugs (sic).”

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Eric Stoltz' twitter account page. Photo credit: Twitter

Congressional District 3: Eric Stoltz

In an email interview, Stoltz stated that, “We are seeing too many instances of officers using excessive or unwarranted force against individuals–often in a racially discriminatory manner.” He further expressed concern about the accountability of police departments in relation to the acts of violence officers commit. If elected to Congress, Stoltz said he will support any policies that address this issue. “We can establish guidelines to review cases at the federal level and indict officers for potentially criminal behavior,” he went on to add. “The prevalence of guns in our society is a contributing factor to the level of force used by law enforcement,” he said, adding that “police are trained like soldiers and conditioned to expect that citizens routinely carry firearms.” In response to a quote from Michael A. Wood Jr., a former Baltimore cop who said in an interview with Slate that police officers “can get away with whatever we choose to get away with,” Stoltz said that investments should be made in “federal resources to assist in police training programs.” He will lobby for the demilitarization of police by ending provisions for police “departments with a surplus of military equipment,” and “abolish the practice of civil asset forfeiture that allows municipalities to seize property unjustifiably.” Furthermore, he will “demand transparency by requiring departments to use body cameras and hold their officers accountable when they break the law.” In regard to the war on drugs, Stoltz wants to end it by decriminalizing all drug use. “I support the release of all federal prisoners convicted ‘solely’ of non-violent, drug-related offenses,” he said.

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From left to right: candidates Guy Pinjuv, Ozzie Fumo, Steven Schiffman, Jesse Sbaih, Michael Weiss and Jack Love discuss gun policy at the March for Our Lives Townhall in Las Vegas, April 7, 2018. Photo by Nissa Tzun

Congressional District 3: Jack Love could not be reached for a comment.

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Congressional candidate Susie Lee. Photo credit: Las Vegas Review Journal

Congressional District 3: Susie Lee could not be reached for a comment.

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Amy Vilela elucidates her support for Medicare-for-All at a Democratic debate sponsored by NextGen America at Three Square, May 22, 2018. Photo by Jordan O'Brien

Congressional District 4: Amy Vilela

Vilela, a businesswoman turned Medicare-for-All activist after her daughter died in the hospital, stated that the issue of policing is a multifaceted problem and proposes that Congress look at it holistically. “The first thing that I’d like to spearhead is to ensure that we are legalizing cannabis at the federal level. Not just legalizing it but taking a look at the folks that are incarcerated and making sure that we are releasing people who are in for non-violent drug offenses.” According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, incarceration rates have increased 600 percent between the years 1974 and 2014. She is also in favor of community policing and developing relationships with leaders and activists in the community to combat this issue. She is a proponent of deescalation training and would push for measures that would abolish Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

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Steven Horsford takes the stage at a Democratic debate sponsored by NextGen America at Three Square, May 22, 2018. Photo by Jordan O'Brien

Congressional District 4: Steven Horsford

A former U.S. congressman that served in Nevada’s 4th Congressional District from 2013 to 2015, Horsford points to his legislative background to indicate where he stands on the issue. In 2013, Horsford sponsored H.R. 3560, a bill that would have introduced measures to eliminate racial profiling. It would have mandated the Director of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center and the Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties to identify practices that contribute to racial profiling and create updated training models to rectify the issue. Police academies that refused to comply with such measures would have been denied accreditation. According to the Congressional Research Service, law enforcement agencies receiving grants from the Department of Homeland Security would have been required to collect substantive data on all “investigatory activities” to ensure that racial profiling is not occurring. The bill ultimately died in the House of Representatives.

He supports deescalation training for police officers and plans to push back on the Trump Administration’s efforts to rescind federal funding that would provide for such training. “You know, everyone that they pull over is not a threat,” he says. “Everyone that looks like me is not automatically guilty, and we need to hold our law enforcement to a high standard.”

In regard to rebuilding trust between the community and the police departments that are supposed to serve them, Horsford says that officer engagement is the key. Law enforcement needs to be seen beyond their role as police officers, and more as a “community resource,” he says. “They have a responsibility and they swore an oath to protect and serve, and so that means understanding the communities that they operate in.”

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Senator Pat Spearman listens to her opponents at a democratic debate sponsored by NextGen America at Three Square in Las Vegas, May 22, 2018. Photo by FTP Staff

Congressional District 4: State Sen. Pat Spearman

A former Lieutenant Colonel of the United States Army Military Police Corps, and an incumbent senator for Nevada’s 1st District, Spearman says that the first step to addressing the issue of police reform is a federal definition of the phrase, “I feared for my life,” in relation to officers that commit acts of violence. Achieving this would establish a barometer by which to scrutinize acts of police violence at the judicial level. The second step is to hold local officials accountable via the democratic process. “You need to be registering people to go and vote,” she says. “You need to be standing up to the police chiefs and to the city council members and to the mayors that are tolerating this nonsense and make sure…that the district attorneys understand we ain’t taking this no more (sic). Okay? We voted you in, we’re going to vote you out.”

While she’s against police militarization, Spearman says that there are “some cases when we have to have weapons and accoutrements” to solve certain issues–like school shootings. She says that funding should go towards hiring more officers, rather than more equipment.

In order to heal the divide between police officers and the communities they are supposed to serve, Spearman supports a “constable on patrol” kind of engagement. According to this view, police officers would be “walking in the neighborhoods” and frequently interacting with members of the community. “We’ve got to make sure that we’re funding police departments so that they’ve got more people on the streets–in neighborhoods,” she says. “Because if I see you every day, and you know me, I know you, and you know my peeps, the less likely I am to–quote– ‘even be afraid of you.’” These federally funded police departments would be required to implement cultural competency training, which would focus on increasing officers’ awareness of diverse world views and social behaviors. “The people need to know them, they need to know the people,” she says. “Just because my skin pigmentation is darker than yours, doesn’t mean that I deserve to get killed.”

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Allison Stephens responds to a question at a Democratic debate sponsored by NextGen America at Three Square in Las Vegas, May 22, 2018. Photo by FTP Staff

Congressional District 4: Regent Allison Stephens

Member of the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents since 2012, Stephens says that working closely with local governments and state elected officials is the first step in combatting police violence. “So much of that is under their jurisdiction,” she says. “But separately from that, there has always been a role for the federal government in anything related to discrimination, and that’s what we’re really talking about in excessive police force.” The federal government and the justice department, she says, ultimately must take steps to “protect citizens from discriminatory acts.” This can take the shape of “providing adequate training,” challenging current policing policies and crafting legislation that understands how to address police culture. Stephens says that police militarization is a “huge problem,” but did not say specifically what she would do to combat the problem.

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Congressional candidate John Anzalone discusses gun policy at the March for Our Lives Townhall in Las Vegas, April 7, 2018. Photo by Nissa Tzun

Congressional District 4: John Anzalone could not be reached for a comment.