Breaking Down Barriers

Join hosts Walt Walters and Earl White in this insightful episode as they delve into the work of the LVMPD Foundation with their special guest, Tom Kovac, the executive director. Discover how the foundation plays a pivotal role in both fundraising for the police department and cultivating stronger relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve. From supporting advanced training facilities for officers to fostering positive engagement through various programs, the discussion highlights the collaborative efforts needed to break down barriers and build mutual trust between law enforcement and the public.

What is Breaking Down Barriers?

Every 2nd Sunday of the Month, Walt Walters and Earl White from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department discuss local Las Vegas community issues and outreach programs.

You're listening to special programming brought to you by Glow Fitness. The content of this program does not reflect the views or opinions of 91.5 Jazz and More, the University of Nevada Las Vegas, or the Board of Regents of the Nevada System of Higher Education. Breaking Down Barriers is brought to you by Glow Fitness, a fitness studio offering a variety of classes and sessions like Mommy and Me for mothers wanting to connect with their children through fitness, offering strength training, boot camps, and more. Glow Fitness is located at 4250 East Bonanza Road, Suite 19. Specials and class schedules available at GlowFitness.Vegas or GlowFitness.Vegas on Instagram. More information by phone at 702-612-6414.

This city is my city and I love it, yeah I love it. I was born and raised here, I got it made here. And if I have my way I'm gonna stay. To every corner.

Welcome to Breaking Down Barriers with Walt Walters and Earl White. We are happy that you're able to join us this morning for this fantastic show that we're going to bring to our listening audience. And we have a very special guest today, and I'm going to let my co-host Walt Walters introduce him.

Thank you, Earl. Tom, thank you for being here this morning. We appreciate you being our first guest. It's really important to us, and we thank you for that. So welcome. Our first guest is Mr. Tom Kovac. He's the executive director of the LVMPD Foundation and a great guy and does a great job here in our community with not only law enforcement, but other entities as well. So I'm going to ask Tom my first question, and it's pretty broad, but I'd like you just to tell us what you have. Tell us all about the foundation. Sure, and thank you, Walt and Earl, for having me here,

especially as your first guest. It's quite an honor. The LVMPD Foundation serves two purposes. The first is to raise funding for the police department and public safety. We are a non-profit organization. We are an independent organization of the police department. And our primary function is to raise funds from the community, from households, businesses, corporations, foundations, and support LVMPD in their mission to keep our community as safe as possible. The second component to our mission is to build stronger relationships between the police department and the communities they serve. And so we conduct a number of programming throughout the year that allows the public to get to know LVMPD better. And we do that through events and through campaigns on social media and through other media. And it really is focused on the goal of having the strongest relationships possible between the public and Metro, because we know that all of our public safety is a joint effort. We can't solely rely on the police department. That's right. We need to do things on our own and in conjunction with the police department to build relationships, to keep our communities as safe as we want them to be. And so we've been around for over 20 years now. The foundation was actually formed in 1999, but it was only recently, say about seven years ago, where the foundation decided to professionalize and start to grow. And the first thing we did was to recruit a number of business and community leaders to our board of directors. We now have almost 30 men and women on that board who believe in the importance of public safety, recognize that Southern Nevada will only be as economically strong as we want it to be if people feel safe working here, living here, and very importantly, visiting here. And so this group has come together and helped us raise a lot more money than we were seven years ago. It went from about $200,000 a year to over nine million last year. And because we've been able to be successful in fundraising, we've been able to build a staff. We have a tremendously strong team of talented people who are working every day to ensure that the foundation is supporting the police department to the best of our ability and the community and we really at this point, fortunately because of the generosity of the community in supporting us, rarely have to say no to the department. When the department brings a need, we are able to say yes. And the scope of that impact is pretty significant. We fund equipment and technology. We fund community engagement programming. Each year now we're spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on efforts by the department to build strong relationships with communities, particularly communities of color and particularly youth. We also invest in a scholarship program. We invest in a number of sports activities, again primarily for youth. And we invest in health and wellness for our officers and their families. And that's where the scholarship fund fits in, but we also have invested in other ways so that the department can take care of our officers to the greatest degree possible. We don't fund initiatives that focus on a particular officer So if an officer gets injured in the line of duty and the family has some financial needs There are other organizations that provide that support but when looking at the core of officers overall or area commands or units of officers We are there to support their health and well-being through a variety of initiatives. You're doing a great job too. Tom, let me ask you, how long have you been with the foundation? I joined the foundation about seven years ago.

Seven years ago. Okay. And I serve as the first executive director of the organization. Okay, that's wonderful. Next question.

What are some of the foundations, which you would call major accomplishments to date? Well first and foremost, what comes to mind as a major accomplishment is earlier this year we opened the first building of a multi-building campus training facility for the police department and very much other first responder agencies as well so that they can train together. on the night of 1 October 2017, we learned the importance of a coordinated response. Because we don't have, like you would say in the LA area, many police departments, fire departments to call in as backup. We have Metro and Henderson, North Las Vegas, when it comes to municipal police departments. And after that, there's no one close. That's right. That could provide the personnel and the other resources that are required when something as big as that country music festival shooting takes place. So this training center will not only be a place for LVMPD officers to train, but will be a place where other agencies, both public and private sector entities, say from the resort community.

So all of law enforcement in Clark County?

All law enforcement, first responders, so fire, EMS would be able to train together, respond as effectively as possible to active shooter incidents and other mass casualty incidents that might take place in the future. But from a LVMPD perspective, the department's been using a temporary facility for the last several years in order to provide advanced officer training, in particular, what is known as reality-based training. And that's putting our officers in as real an environment as possible without being in an actual situation. And so our goal in this first phase of this training center project is to build two buildings. The first building, which is now open, includes classrooms for training, includes mat rooms for physical training, and includes simulator rooms for the most state of the art advanced training that's available to any police officer anywhere. And that first building also includes all the administrative functionalities for the training facility. The second building, which is under construction, will be an indoor tactical training village. And it is in this building where we will create as real a space as possible for our officers and other first responders to train. So we'll have a casino floor that will look like a real casino floor. There'll be a floor of hotel guest rooms that will look like a real floor of hotel guest rooms.

That's wonderful.

That's terrific.

So the goal is to allow our officers to train in Israel and environment so that when they do get into an actual situation, they're able to make decisions which are often second-length decisions under stress and make the right one. And we know that this training will maintain a greater level of life, both for our officers, they'll be safer, and for anyone else involved in the incident, both the suspects and any civilians who happen to be in the nation. And the training that the police department has developed is also one of the most advanced training programs to help our officers deescalate a situation.

That's great to hear. Great to hear.

That's terrific. Tom, let me ask you a question. Do you foresee in the future maybe the border states' agencies using our facility for their training, coming across to Nevada to use our state-of-the-art facilities for their agencies? Do you ever see that as a possibility?

So the vision of Sheriff Lombardo for this training center is pretty significant, and yes, There is a vision to continue to expand this facility so that not only will it be used by Southern Nevada entities, it will be used by entities throughout the state and then throughout the region. There is no federal training facility like this west of the Mississippi, so border states and other states in the Mountain West and throughout the western half of the country ultimately should be able to use this facility. We are a couple of phases away from getting to that point, but the Police Department will maintain this facility and the financial benefits of the facility are twofold. One, as I said earlier, the department has been using a makeshift temporary facility that they pay lease for. So now that money that they've been paying rent can be used for the annual operations and upkeep of this new facility. But going forward, especially as we get into future phases and have a larger training footprint, where we could have multiple agencies training at the center at the same time, there'll be an opportunity for the police department to gain earned revenue by essentially renting the space for agencies across the country, and particularly the West, to come to Las Vegas and train.

Wonderful. That's terrific. Do you, I'm sorry, do you have

a tentative completion date on the facility yet? So the first building is done. It opened in March of this year and the second building, the tactical training village, will be done next year. Training is already taking place in the first building. The police department has brought that online and as soon as the second building is done next year, training will commence in it as well.

You know, it seems the last couple of years it's just been in cities across the country this disconnect between law enforcement and the community. And I know that's dear to your heart. Can you speak about the community police engagement report that the foundation put out?

Sure. to securing the final piece of funding for the training center, at least the first phase. And that was a $5 million commitment from a major corporation that happened to be based in Minneapolis. And following the killing of George Floyd, that corporation withdrew their support, citing the risk of supporting law enforcement. Their CEO had signed a letter to the Minneapolis Police Department demanding three dozen or so changes that those CEOs wanted to see that police department make before they could regain their confidence in that police department. We asked for a copy of that letter, which they provided us, and we shared that letter with the police department. Our police department was able to demonstrate that, let's say there were 36 items in that letter. 35. And the 36 was not done because it's outside of the jurisdiction of our police department. And there's some differences between Minneapolis and Las Vegas when it comes to the municipal government and law enforcement. And so they could do nothing about it because it was outside their jurisdiction. Not only had they done say the 35, but they had been doing them for years. And police departments from around the country were coming to learn from Metro. Unfortunately, that didn't move the needle at all with this corporation. And so it was an eye-opener for me because for the most part, here in Southern Nevada, and particularly with Metro and the communities that they serve, the relationships have been strong. And that's because the police department has put a lot of effort into building relationships, in particular with leaders of those communities, but also those communities and those leaders of those communities have put in a lot of effort to build relationships with Metro. So I was not expecting a major corporation to cite a risk of supporting law enforcement as the reason for pulling back any support, but in particular this level of support. So what happened after that is we decided that we would commission a survey, a survey of as many police foundations around the country that we could contact to try to quantify and get a better picture of the amount of positive police community engagement that police departments were doing because of the support from police foundations.

And at the time,

summer, fall of 2020, we were able to identify about 250 police foundations or public safety foundations around the country, mostly the police foundations. And so we sent a survey to all of them and we had a really good response. And based on those responses, we issued the report, Earl, that you were referencing. And it demonstrates the effectiveness of police foundations and the volume of positive programming that police departments are undertaking around the country because of funding that they're receiving or because of programmatic support that they're receiving from their respective police foundations. And so based on that report, we were able to lead the creation of the Public Safety Foundation Network, which launched at the end of last year. The report was issued in the spring of 2021. And then this network was launched in the fall of 2021, for the purpose of providing a collective voice for police foundations around the country to be able to take data like this and share it with business leaders, community leaders, elected officials, and the public in general, so that they too are aware of the incredibly high volume of positive engagement that's taking place. It also is a network that will provide the opportunity for police departments around the country who are looking to form a foundation to have some support in getting that foundation up and running and for foundations of any size to have a professional network of foundations around the country that they can turn to for best practices about our ideas on how to do something new. And so we're really excited about that and we're proud as the LVMPD Foundation to have taken a leading role in creating that. Tom, have you had a big response from other police foundations to get involved and to work with you, with our foundation? Yes, so that network has over three dozen members already. And so there's been great interest in sharing best practices and supporting each other. One of the goals of our police foundation, and really it's a goal, I think, for anyone involved with the nonprofit sector here, anyone involved in the government sector in Southern Nevada Is to bring more outside resources to our city and to our region a Lot of federal funding is based on the population that lives here And that's important for the you know approaching what three million people who live in southern Nevada now, but those calculations often don't take into consideration the 40 plus million people who visit here. And those tens of millions of people who visit here put strain on our public safety apparatus and structure, right? Because not only does Metro have to protect three million people, they have to protect 40 million people. Good example would be the NFL draft that we just had. That's right.


And so we all are rooting for our city to continue to attract events like that and other major league sport teams and so forth.

You got the Grand Prix coming up, too.


That's right.

That's a $16 million investment that outside organizations, whether that be the federal government, whether that be major corporations who aren't based here, but hold their meetings here, or have offices here, it's going to be very important for the LVMPD Foundation to develop relationships with those entities, as many as possible. Certainly. And have them support us so that we can support their employees and their visitors and meeting attendees when they come to Las Vegas for their annual events. That's good news. Tom, I've got two questions. One, I want to cover in general who are some of your community partners, but more than that, I know there's a new group called the Black Giving Circle that you folks just got involved in. If you could tell us about that. Sure. So when we look at our supporter base, we noticed that while there are some great examples of significant supporters who are people of color, in particular members of the black community, there was not enough of them. And so we decided to launch earlier this year, the Black Giving Circle, as a way to give the black community the opportunity to take greater ownership in their public safety by having the opportunity to invest in the foundation, so financially, but also have the opportunity to network with other black business leaders, community leaders, through events of the Black Giving Circle. And then the opportunity to engage as a volunteer in foundation programming or department programming, and in some cases, serve as mentors to black youth. So we're just getting started. We launched it earlier this year. We're planning our next event for the Black Giving Circle. But the response has been really pleasing.

Good, great.

And again, that goes back to what I said earlier, the police department has done a good job in building relationships with leaders in the black community. One of our community partners, to answer your question specifically, Walt, is the NAACP and Roxanne McCoy, who's the president of that local chapter. We've been working with her for the last couple of years, co-sponsoring events, developing programming. That's wonderful. And that demonstrates the effectiveness that the department has had in building those relationships and the effectiveness that now the foundation is having in continuing to build those relationships.

That's outstanding. Tom, can you share with us some of your plans for expansion for the foundation in the future, the immediate and the distant future, if you can? Sure.

So from a capital perspective, certainly the training center is the largest project. And so as we work this year to raise the funding required to finish that second building and then have that second building completed next year, we're already looking to future phases of that training center. One of them will be a vehicular training track and the other will be an outdoor tactical training village. So much larger streetscapes, much larger buildings that recognize that we're a different city than we were 10 years ago. We now have a NFL stadium, NHL arena and so forth. So we need to make sure our officers and other first responders have a place to train that doesn't require them to go into Allegiant, as an example, to train, that they can do that in a different space at this training center and not disrupt the regular operations of the stadium. So the training center is going to be a big part of our expansion. We also are continuing to expand significantly the community engagement programming that we support for the police department, so I'm referenced the NAACP. We're launching a series of programs this year Reading with a cop so we just sponsored some book fairs Where police officers went and read to students saw that and so we want to continue to expand those We're looking at starting a program That we've done in limited ways Previously called cooking with a cup and then we'd like to expand to Conversations with a Cop and then Writing with a Cop. So that series will be rolled out throughout this year and into next year and we're really excited

about that. Yeah, what would you say would be some of the challenges that law enforcement faces with the community, that we can kind of bridge that gap and break down that barrier?

Well, I think fundamentally the greatest challenge is a fear. And that's based usually on either bad information or just a lack of engagement. So from a community perspective, it's a fear of the police, and a view that the police is here only to harm us. And from a police officer perspective, it could be being unfamiliar with the culture and a community that they're now asked to serve and protect, but they haven't spent a lot of time in growing up. And so this is really their first opportunity to engage with a community that looks different than they do. And so I think if we can continue to build on these opportunities to bring the community and the department together, to give the community that the department serves a better understanding that our officers are real people. They have the same fears and hopes and dreams and aspirations that we all do if we don't serve in that capacity.

And they're part of the community too. That's right. They have to have their seat at the table too.

They have their kids in schools. They face all the same problems that anybody does.

Sure. So I think that's the greatest challenge we all have. And we're doing a lot as a foundation. The police department's doing a lot. And communities across the valley are doing a lot to bring down those barriers and bring an understanding, a collective mutual understanding, and therefore be less fearful of one another. It's good news.

It's good news to hear. Yeah, we really appreciate your time today. It's been insightful for us to hear all of this and all the great things that you're doing and we'd like to even ask you today, we'd like to have you come back soon just to talk about new things.

Happy to do it.

Wonderful. We appreciate the hard work you do. We've worked with you so we know what you do. You're hard for the community and hard for the people and the police and everyone. And we really appreciate that. And we thank you for being just a good model for the community, a good community partner, as Metro would say, partners with the community. You've zoomed that in. We appreciate it. We'd like to thank you again for coming on our program. Breaking Down Barriers is all about how can we break down barriers so we can learn to live together and collapse the spaces that keep us apart and you being our first guest, that's a great step in the right direction we feel. So we thank you so much. And we thank you listening audience. Until next month, I'm Walt, I'm Earl, I'm Walt. We get confused sometimes. And we'd like to thank you for tuning in to Breaking Down Barriers with Walt and Earl. And we'd like to thank you for tuning in to Breaking Down Barriers with Walt and Earl. Thank you very much.