(Sigal Chattah) – On May 4, 2022, I started an unprecedented endeavor across the State of Nevada to meet members of law enforcement and the criminal justice system known as the Chattah4Nevada Top Cop Tour.
This endeavor is unprecedented due to the fact that no candidate for Nevada Attorney General, regardless of political party, has ever taken such an affirmative step to investigate and discuss the issues falling on Nevada’s law enforcement, criminal justice, and mental health in the history of this office.
As an attorney in the criminal justice system for over two decades, I know that criminal justice has its shortcomings.
I know that there were imperfections that have nothing to do with racial justice, political affiliations or criminal defendants’ rights.
I know that there are systemic problems that have more to do with bureaucracy than civil rights – the extent of which became unfathomable by the end of my tour.
I kicked off this tour on May 4 at the Sheriffs & Chiefs meeting in Fallon, hoping to discuss my issues of priority, which were mental health, cumulative trauma in law enforcement fields and diversionary programs.
I also wanted to assure that all sectors of law enforcement have an understanding that my approach to the Attorney General’s office would be as a reliable ally to law enforcement and counties’ District Attorneys – a cataclysmic shift from what they experience with the current hostility from the Attorney General’s office.
As I traveled 17 Counties in 10 days, I was exposed to realities that I would have never imagined could ever be real in our state.
This holds especially true in the rural communities I traveled through; sometimes two or three counties a day.
I witnessed tragic underfunding, unimaginable incarceration facilities, unintended consequences of violations of separation of powers, and justices of the peace unprotected by Bailiffs.
If I had heard these stories without seeing them, I would’ve never believed in their existence.
For the integrity of confidential communications by many law enforcement officials I came across, neither the names of the counties nor the individuals will be disclosed.
Those from within the system will surely recognize the realities so familiar to them with these numbered shockers.
SHOCKER NO. 1- JUSTICES OF THE PEACE
Many Justices of the Peace have no bailiffs to protect them because of “underfunding” or simply being deemed a lack of priority. This on its own is egregious on a level that is incomprehensible to me.
Justices of the Peace in rural communities are often the ones who sign warrants, hold initial arraignment courts, preside over preliminary hearings and have “in custodies” daily.
How does a county lack funding to provide the one Justice of the Peace, in a rural community, a bailiff?
It is significant to note that in a few rural counties you can expect that many people know where that Justice of the Peace lives and where their children go to school. This takes the term “occupational hazard” to a whole new level.
SHOCKER NO. 2- JAIL FACILITIES
The systemic problem with Nevada’s jail facilities should be a story on its own, but the incarceration facilities of Nevada’s rural communities exemplify the hostility towards law enforcement.
Devoid of any thought of inmates’ rights in our state, our counties forget that the individuals working 8-, 10- and 12-hour shifts in Nevada’s jails are law enforcement, often working in abhorrent conditions of old facilities – including sewer lines that leak above records and surveillance rooms.
The abhorrent conditions, of course, were attributed to “lack of funding”.
I spoke to numerous law enforcement agents that are awaiting mental health services for inmates months on end, rotting in jails, without a psychiatric evaluation, when they know these individuals should not be in jail but in mental health care.
Inmates in ICE detention in our county jails are languishing until someone from the federal government pays attention to them.
This goes beyond forgotten inmates. This falls into forgotten criminal justice and a blatant disregard for the mental health crisis plaguing our state.
Seemingly, Nevada’s elected representatives care so little about criminal justice, that incarceration facilities are only prioritized after sports venues and complexes, sports teams, speed racing and whatever other useless idea du jour Nevada’s leaders chase.
SHOCKER 3- LAW ENFORCEMENT DOING PRE-TRIAL RISK ASSESSMENTS
In 2016, the establishment of Initial Appearance Courts was announced with a purpose of determining if there was probable cause to arrest and to have an expedited judicial determination of custody status or release conditions by a judge within 48 hours of arrest.
This was sold to everyone as a blissful intersection where the vectors of due process and expedited review would assure a defendant’s’ constitutional rights were secured, allowing for “low risk” individuals to be released based on court personnel providing the Initial Appearance Judge risk assessments for the judge to determine release.
While the larger counties have seen these risk assessments woefully inaccurate – resulting in habitual and repeat offenders being released and reoffending immediately – the rural counties dilemma is magnified by “lack of funding.”
While risk assessments were to be done by the judiciary through the courts, because of “lack of funding” many rural counties police officers are forced to do risk assessments and provide them to the judge, which is a blatant violation of the separation of powers.
Unfortunately, this is an unintended consequence of “lack of funding” or again, prioritizing uselessness over utility and public safety in our state.
SHOCKER NO. 4- NEVADA’S DIRE MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE
When I started the tour, this was my focus. Instead, as I spoke to different sectors of law enforcement, it became almost of secondary importance.
Nevada’s Mental Health crisis is plagued by the fact that Nevada does not have any long-term mental health facilities.
As a practitioner “in the system” I am very familiar with the shortage and almost impossibility to obtain a diagnosis and the insurmountable challenge of doing so in an expedited manner.
Insiders know that 400 beds are available at Lakes Crossing in Northern Nevada for psychiatric assessments in the whole state. That’s it. 400 beds to serve a population of 3 million people.
The saga of Lakes Crossing has been discussed for over a decade and yet nobody seems to care. Not this Administration, not past Administrations – not Democrats or Republicans. They just don’t care.
These politicians, on both sides of the aisle, talk a good game. But they could care less about finding solutions to the problem. They all mimic each other and say the same bullsh*t about addressing mental health.
And yet nobody does anything about it.
In the fall of last year, I came up with a private sector solution to a public sector problem – albeit a pricey yet very plausible solution. I proposed to convert and refurbish two closed jails in Nevada to two long-term mental health facilities subsidized by the state.
The more I discussed it with members of law enforcement, the more support I got from them.
An idea was born – and the need for a project like this was immediately accepted and supported throughout the state by all sectors of criminal justice I spoke to.
There were a few common themes that I crossed throughout counties, including low officer morale, officer shortage, lack of incentives to work in rural communities and lack of recruitment resources.
Closure of police academies leaves an abysmal pool of candidates. Salaries as low as under $13.00 per hour in rural counties does not incentivize anyone to be in law enforcement.
As I left every county and every meeting, I left with one promise to all: I would do all I could to ensure funding to make law enforcement recruitment and hiring a priority.
I promised to stand by our counties and their law enforcement to assure that their jails no longer look like an Abu Ghraib prison.
I promised to stand by justices and ensure that their safety isn’t compromised for doing their jobs.
In short, I promised them a major overhaul in criminal justice reform – the good overhaul, where public safety is assured and law enforcement is protected.
The most important thing I learned, though, was that the real top cops are our law enforcement officers – not the Attorney General.
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