Is the Clark County School District Police Department usurping police powers it is not granted under the law?
Nevada Revised Statutes specifically designate school police as Category II peace officers, who have only temporary and restricted authority in Class A felony crimes. Their jurisdiction is limited to school district property, district events when held off property and roadways adjacent to district property.
In contrast, Nevada Highway Patrolmen and officers in Metro, Henderson and North Las Vegas, who work for primary law-enforcement agencies and have authority over all crimes in their jurisdictions, are Category I peace officers.
Nevertheless, according to CCSD police spokesman Lieutenant Ken Young, district school police officers routinely enforce traffic laws as part of a multi-agency traffic task force out on local freeways and business and residential streets not adjacent to school property. They also, according to the spokesman, investigate Class A felonies other than murder and attempted murder.
The CCSD police force has also amassed multiple kinds of heavy duty police armaments and technology. When Nevada Journal asked the CCSD Finance Department which line items in the budget had paid for weapons, ammunition and more, the department wrote back that it “declined” to respond.
Pressed on the authority question, Lt. Young said that the district’s officers can do all this because they are “state officers” with the full authority of Category I peace officers. They have that authority, he argues, because they receive Category I training and certification under Nevada’s Police Officer Standards and Training (POST) regimen.
“For us, we know that we operate as a Category I agency and we’re recognized by our duties as a Category I agency,” said Young. “We are state-certified police officers.”
Other local law-enforcement entities believe the same thing: Even though state law — NRS 289.470 (12) — clearly states that school district police are Category II law enforcement, the overwhelming response from local peace officers is that school district police are — like themselves — Category I police.
“Peace officer standards give them authority to enforce laws anywhere in the state,” said Lieutenant Joseph Wingard, Nevada Highway Patrol communications commander. “But they would probably, normally, have a policy or something” specifying when they do so.
In the view of Sgt. Tim Bedwell of the North Las Vegas Police Department, “Category is not really their training; it's their status.”
“There is a training requirement to meet the status,” continues Bedwell, “but once you become a peace officer in the state of Nevada your power is limited by that category. They're Cat I peace officers, so they have the same power as any other peace officer anywhere in the state. They are limited by their organization policy in what activity they get involved.”
Henderson police weighed in along the same lines as did the Highway Patrol and North Las Vegas. Las Vegas Metro has yet to respond to Nevada Journal.
Despite the confident assertions of local police officials, Nevada Revised Statute 289.460 clearly states: A “Category I peace officer” means a police officer who has unrestricted duties and who is not otherwise listed as a category II or category III peace officer. (Emphasis added.)
However, NRS 289.470 (12) clearly designates school police as Category II officers. Furthermore, school police duties have pointed restrictions in NRS 171.1223.
The Nevada Legislature went out of its way to emphasize limits on the power of school police officers in 2001, when lawmakers reduced the authority of school police by writing NRS 171.1223 into law. The statute requires school police, when confronted with category A felonies, to immediately notify primary law-enforcement forces of the city or the county.
Moreover, when primary law enforcement arrives at the scene of the felony, says the statute, school district police are to “immediately transfer the investigation” — unless an inter-local agreement exists.
Such an agreement, between CCSD-PD and the primary law-enforcement agency, would authorize school officers to respond to and investigate the felony without immediately notifying the primary law-enforcement agency.
However, no inter-local agreements exist between the district and local law-enforcement agencies, according to police departments queried by Nevada Journal.
Lawmakers also amended Nevada Revised Statute 289.190 to require that any school police officer shall perform his or her duties “in compliance with the provisions of NRS 171.1223.”
In 2007, the Legislature extended school police jurisdiction to roadways adjacent to school district property, but it did not endorse CCSD-PD issuing traffic citations out in the community.
“This bill is about safety and nothing more,” testified Craig Kadlub, CCSD director of government affairs, to the Senate Committee on Human Resources and Education. “Every year we see multiple incidents where children are struck by cars and sometimes fatally…. The back of the bill says it would allow school police to have jurisdiction on streets contiguous to these schools and during times when school functions are in session.”
Later, Kadlub testified before the Assembly Committee on Education, “It would only be the streets that touch the school property….
“This is about parents that double and triple-park, make illegal U-turns, park in the crosswalks, et cetera. The officers would not be engaged in anything out in the community,” Kadlub continued.
Could it be that CCSD-PD’s decision to assume the posture of a Category I force, given its POST certifications, outranks the letter of Nevada statutory law?
No, says Nevada Police Officer Standards and Training Deputy Director Tim Bunting.
“POST sets standards for training and certification,” explained Bunting. “It is not in POST authority to regulate jurisdiction of law-enforcement agencies.”
Presented with Bunting’s remarks, CCSD-PD spokesman Young did not respond. At the Henderson police department, a spokesman insisted Bunting must have been misunderstood.
But when Nevada Journal enquired once again, just to make sure, the POST spokesman said, “It’s really not complicated.”
“Anyone can train to a higher level,” explained Bunting, “but that doesn’t mean they can effect an arrest outside their jurisdiction.”
When he received the faxed question from Nevada Journal, said Bunting, he thought, “Somebody’s feeding you something.”
It is for the purpose of determining minimum training standards that the Nevada Administrative Code, NAC 289.130, briefly describes the four categories of Nevada Peace Officers, not jurisdiction, he wrote in an e-mail.
Peace officers can always train higher, said Bunting, but it is “statute [that] sets jurisdiction.”
School police, he explained, are parallel to Gaming Control agents, who are also designated Category II, even though they train and certify to POST Category I standards. “Their jurisdiction ends up being in the casinos and things like that.”
“Just because you’re Cat-I certified,” continued Bunting, “it doesn’t give you carte blanche to go outside your jurisdiction.”
But CCSD-PD is currently operating with a carte blanche view of its authority.
Recently replaced CCSD-PD chief Filiberto Arroyo, in a conversation with Nevada Journal, said that all his officers are Category I. Until last week, Arroyo was on administrative leave and the subject of separate FBI and Metro investigations.
Seeking clarity, Nevada Journal then asked: “But statutorily, they’re recognized as Category II?”
Lt. Young, who was present, responded:
[T]hat happened back in 1989 and we just have not thought or really been that concerned about an upgrade [in state law] because, you know, we still do, you know, what we do. The category, for us, really doesn’t dictate how we handle business. (Emphasis added.)
The Clark County School District Police Department has evolved quite a bit from what Lt. Young called “door checkers.”
Now an $18 million annual operation, the unit has a state-of-the-art law-enforcement facility complete with training rooms, an emergency operation command center, a mobile command center vehicle, a remote camera system soon to be linked to every campus classroom and a 17-operator dispatch center.
On any given day, 20 of the force’s 168 police officers can be carrying AR-15 assault rifles, in their vehicles, according to the department, while still others may be armed with 12-gauge shotguns. CCSD-PD assured Nevada Journal that the AR-15s were not fully automatic.
Approximately 19 officers are armed with tasers and may carry these on school campus.
Thomas McAffee, a professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ Boyd School of Law, said CCSD-PD acting outside of its statutory authority could have legal implications.
In regards to traffic citations, McAffee said: “It’s plausible to think that a judge could [void a speeding ticket issued by CCSD-PD outside its jurisdiction], not certain that he would. If I was a lawyer, I’d argue that he should.”
McAffee said that while the Supreme Court has held — in general — that an illegal arrest doesn’t void prosecution, a judge would probably consider any evidence gathered in the immediate aftermath of an illegal arrest as an illegal search and not allow a jury to consider it.
Update: Metro has responded to Nevada Journal's records request. Metro told Nevada Journal no inter-local agreements exist between the district and Metro. The story has been updated accordingly.