If your first reaction to the Las Vegas Review Journal’s recent five-day series on police shootings in Southern Nevada was, “I didn’t know they did investigative reporting any more,” you’re not alone. We thought the same thing, considering that the R-J fired its special projects team in February, and then laid off another 20 or so newsroom staffers in August. Who is left over there with a year to devote to reporting a story anyway?
Once you get past the initial shock of seeing something so ambitious from such a journalistically diminished institution, however, you’ll notice that the Deadly Force series, published Nov. 27-Dec. 1, is a first-rate piece of investigative work. R-J reporters Brian Haynes, Lawrence Mower and Alan Maimon digested 20 years of records on police shootings from here and other cities, did dozens of interviews and wrote more words than you are probably willing to read on the topic, including some truly wrenching stories about people who tangled with Metro and ended up dead. Photographers and videographers brought the story to life in a painstakingly comprehensive online package that includes the story of ever single fatal police shooting in the Las Vegas Valley since 1990, all 142 of them. Conclusion: Las Vegas cops shoot more often than in other cities, and Metro doesn’t really have to answer to an apathetic citizenry about it.
This is the sort of afflicting-the-comfortable journalism that dailies used to live for. “It’s the kind of thing that newspapers can do well,” says R-J editor Michael Hengel. “There isn’t anyone else who is going to take a look at an issue like this in Las Vegas.”
And if it seems out of place, that’s because few papers outside the biggest markets have the staffing to pull reporters out of the mix for a year or more. It’s no different at the R-J, Hengel says, but the newspaper found a way. “We’ll have issues bubble up from beats and we will find relief for the reporters and allow them to jump into the project,” he says. “We still have a lot of resources here. We just have to examine our priorities.”