Las Vegas Police Review Response to 2017 Mass Shooting

Thom Weidlich 07.18.19


The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department has released a review of its performance during the mass shooting in 2017 that left 58 people dead and more than 800 injured. The report focuses on the operational response, but it does have a section on external communications. While few crises are as big or as tragic as this one, the report offers food for thought for all crisis communicators.

The “after-action review,” released July 10, is impressive in that the Las Vegas police really seem to want to learn from mistakes made during this tragedy. It’s a list of what they could have done or could have used. In particular, it shows how hard it is to gather and disseminate accurate information in a crisis.

Not surprisingly, the report finds the department’s public-information office (PIO) was too small for the Oct. 1 shooting. “The volume of calls coming into the PIO was overwhelming for one to two employees to handle, and many calls from the media went unanswered,” the report says.

One recommendation is to train police-department employees as backups for the communications operation when a big crisis hits (the public-information team, like others, worked around the clock after the shooting).

The department also found the information office struggled to put out a unified message because its members were spread throughout the city. For those who were at headquarters, the operations center wasn’t equipped with enough computers or even with equipment to monitor the media.

Updated Facts

Another recommendation is to compile fact sheets and chronologies during a crisis to better understand what information was disseminated. According to the report, “there was no formal tracking system in place to document details of the incident as it unfolded. It was difficult for the PIO to differentiate between information that had already been released and newly updated facts awaiting release.”

In hindsight, the rush to put out information led not only to confusion but also to the birth of multiple conspiracy theories that continue to plague this mass shooting today.

–Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department

The report also addressed the difficulty of developing an accurate timeline about the shooting due to the many sources of incoming information (radio traffic, air-support video, computer-aided dispatch, cell-phone and hotel-surveillance video). It recommends in such instances using the term “sequence of events” rather than “timeline.”

“In hindsight, the rush to put out information led not only to confusion but also to the birth of multiple conspiracy theories that continue to plague this mass shooting today,” the police department writes.

Another recommendation is to designate an alternative media center for press conferences for big crises like the 2017 shooting, as the room used at police headquarters proved to be too small for all the journalists covering it.

The report also notes the importance of securing such areas. One reporter was found inside the operations center, having signed in and gotten a name tag (he was escorted out), and another was found hiding in bushes outside the hotel, trying to get in, from which the shooter had operated.

“While the agency is committed to maintaining transparency with the media and community during critical incidents, this must be done correctly,” the department wrote.

And, yes, security is part of that.

Photo Credit: Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department

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