One year later, how has security changed?

By: - September 26, 2018 6:19 am

Pictures taken one week before the beginning of the country music festival from a helicopter, The image shows final preparations for the Route 91 Harvest Festival. CC BY-SA 4.0 Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz

When a Mandalay Bay housekeeper discovered a cache of weapons in a hotel room on the 24th floor in November of 2014, including a rifle pointed out the window at the Las Vegas Strip, hotel security put in a call to the Las Vegas Fusion Center as part of the “See Something, Say Something” campaign.   

The hotel guest, Kye Dunbar, told police he was planning to take target practice in the desert.  Dunbar was arrested, prosecuted, convicted and sentenced to 40 months in federal prison.

The government’s sentencing memo for Dunbar, a convicted felon prohibited from possessing weapons, indicated a more sinister intent than target practice.   

The offense conduct strongly suggests that the Defendant was not merely in possession of these weapons to engage in target shooting,” the memo said. “The Defendant had apparently positioned a scoped rifle so that it was pointed out of his hotel room window at the Mandalay Bay and towards the Las Vegas Strip… One of the items recovered in the room was a homemade suppressor, commonly referred to as a ‘silencer’.”

The incident prompted Mandalay Bay security to submit a Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) to the Southern Nevada Counter-Terrorism Center, also known as the Fusion Center, where fourteen government agencies collaborate to mine data from the tourism industry and connect the dots in an effort to prevent terrorism.  A spokeswoman for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department says the report on the Mandalay Bay incident was distributed within days in the Fusion Center’s weekly alert to hotel security, Southern Nevada law enforcement, and all first responders. Metro declined to provide a copy of the alert, which it says is not a public document and is for official use only.

It’s unclear if the 2014 incident had prompted any changes in protocol at the hotel by the time Stephen Paddock hauled an arsenal to his suite on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay three years later. 

In fact, several members of the Las Vegas Security Chiefs’ Association, including its current president, say they have no recollection of a guest being arrested after stockpiling weapons in a Mandalay Bay hotel room in 2014.  

Dave Logue is a 29-year veteran of Metro and has headed up security at the Cosmopolitan for three and a half years.  He is president of the Security Chiefs’ Association.

“I don’t remember it coming up but I wasn’t president at the time,” says Logue of the 2014 incident. “We give Metro an opportunity to speak at the meetings.  I don’t remember that coming up.”

David Shepherd has been a member of the association for several decades.  He says information is provided to those who need it.

“Relying on the good nature of people”

Now, almost a year after the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, and with two known instances of hotel guests amassing weapons in rooms overlooking the Las Vegas Strip, hotel executives are unwilling to discuss improvements to security or whether they’ve made any significant changes.  

Hospitality and security make for strange bedfellows.  The handheld metal detectors that checked bags as guests entered the Wynn and Encore in the days following the massacre rapidly disappeared, apparently proving too intrusive for the ‘devil may care’ vibe of the Strip.  

Former cop Jeff Chase, now a private security company owner in Texas, says signs banning guns will not keep firearms out of hotels.

“I’m a national three gun competitor and we’ve come in and out of hotels in Las Vegas with rolling cases full of weapons and never been questioned,” Chase says.  “There’s no regulation of luggage. Bags are not scanned. Resorts are relying on the general good nature of people to do the right thing.”  

Chase says only a fraction of a percent of gun owners cause problems and the cost of erecting roadblocks to stop them is prohibitive.

“It’s a big production to put a baggage search in place. Think of the thousands of bags that come in. It would be an insurmountable job,” he says, adding a criminal intent on wreaking havoc will find a way. “If they’re doing security at the Wynn or the Venetian, the criminal will go to a place that doesn’t have those precautions in place because they can’t afford it.”

Do police exert much influence over the tourism industry they protect?

“I think we regularly talk with our private sector,” says Cary Underwood, director of the Fusion Center.  “We talk about vulnerabilities and tactics.  There are conversations about specific things that happen around the world.  As with anything, we’ll make sure our concerns are known.”

Government officials are eager to respond to Metro’s security recommendations. 

“With the rash of vehicle ramming incidents, we brought that to the attention of elected officials. They put up countermeasures along Las Vegas Boulevard,” Underwood says of the barriers that now line the sidewalks.    

Company town

“The Mandalay Bay security was fantastic,” Sheriff Joe Lombardo told the New York Times just days after the shooting. “I don’t want anyone to think that it’s not safe to stay at one of our hotels.”

Las Vegas attorney Robert Eglet disagrees with Lombardo’s assessment, at least as it applies to MGM properties.

“Measures could have been taken.  Wynn did take those measures. They hired special forces.  They hired plainclothes security trained to spot threats like this (Paddock). They installed metal detectors.  They acted. MGM (which owns Mandalay Bay) did not,” says Eglet, who is representing a handful of shooting victims and their families. “MGM let ‘do not disturb signs’ remain indefinitely.  They let guests use service elevators.”

“We have evidence their security was not adequate, that they were not manned properly. The entire response was so unorganized,” Eglet says, noting police were sent to the wrong floor.   

MGM Resorts International declined repeated requests to discuss security but issued a statement.   

“Security remains a top priority at all MGM Resorts properties, facilities and entertainment venues, and our security team works tirelessly to protect our guests and employees. We are constantly evaluating and refining our security procedures and work continuously with law enforcement and security experts to promote a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone.”

Wynn and Encore declined to discuss security, as did executives from Sheldon Adelson’s hotels, who provided a statement noting the Venetian and The Palazzo have a “robust and progressive security program in place.” 

Caesars Entertainment, ranked among the largest hospitality companies in the world, did not respond to our request for comment.  

But veteran hotel security expert David Shepherd says the shooting was unique and unlikely to be repeated.  

“Elevated sniper attacks just don’t happen often,” says Shepherd, the former chief of security for the Venetian.  

Months before the Las Vegas massacre, in July of 2016, an elevated sniper in Dallas killed five police officers.  

“We’ve changed a lot of our tactics,” says Logue of the Cosmopolitan.  “We do that all the time. We assess operations, current threats, meaning citywide.  We assess what’s going on.”

Before the mass shooting, Wynn Resorts hired retired special forces and law enforcement officials for its elite security squad.  Logue says the Cosmopolitan focuses on hiring former military, for security and non-security positions.

I can tell you that I’m impressed with the backgrounds of many of our security guards,” Logue says, noting they are not the stereotypical low-paid, unqualified guards of the past.  “The old perception is they were paid lower wages and you got lower quality people. That’s not the case.”

Glassdoor, a wage information website, indicates security employee pay varies on the Strip.  Glassdoor estimates a security officer at the Hard Rock Hotel is paid $10 to $13 per hour. A guard at Park MGM is estimated to be paid $12 to $15 an hour. A security officer at the Las Vegas Sands Corporation is said to earn $12 to $17 per hour while a guard at the Sands’ Venetian is estimated to earn between $14 and $19.  

Logue declined to discuss whether armed security guards are adequately trained to confront a suspect.

“…can’t armchair quarterback”

Video from the Mandalay Bay mass shooting reveals armed guards and police stood in the hallway outside Paddock’s hotel suite for several minutes as the shooting continued.  

In an interview with Metro police, a Mandalay Bay security manager stated “But when we got to 32 and we exited the — me and (LVMPD Officer Cordell) Hendrex exited the elevator, it was about a good two minutes, maybe a little more of active fire still coming from that room.”

“I froze right there in the middle of the hall for how long I can’t say,” said Metro Officer Hendrex, who reported to investigators he was frozen with fear and praying as the unmistakable sound of automatic gunfire streamed from Paddock’s suite.  

Following the Columbine school shooting and the subsequent spate of mass shootings, police nationwide have adjusted their training and response to confront active shooters.  With at least some police officers exhibiting reluctance to take on a heavily armed sniper, can armed security guards be expected to enter the line of fire and engage the shooter?  

“You are asking about specific training and I don’t want to get into that,” says Logue, president of the Security Chiefs’ Association. “It’s become the norm for law enforcement to confront, yes, but for armed security? I don’t want to get into that.”  

Metro police have only said in a statement that every officer’s actions are being looked at.  

“If there’s active gunfire and people are being killed, I don’t care how few people there are with me.  I’m going in and if I get killed in the process of trying to stop it, so be it,” says Chase. 

“I can’t armchair quarterback that officer (Hendrex).  It depends on their standard operating procedure. If they’ve been told to wait, it’s not that officer’s fault.  But even if I’m by myself, I’m going to confront the shooter and try to stop the killing. Even if I only have a handgun,” says Chase, the Texas security firm owner.

But is it reasonable to expect an officer with a handgun to confront a madman armed with automatic rifles?

“That’s the oath those officers took when they signed up for that job,” Chase says.  “That’s something they’ve come to grips with. I have a personal beef with anybody who doesn’t feel that way.”  

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Dana Gentry
Dana Gentry

Dana Gentry is a native Las Vegan and award-winning investigative journalist. She is a graduate of Bishop Gorman High School and holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Gentry began her career in broadcasting as an intern at Channel 8, KLAS-TV. She later became a reporter at Channel 8, working with Las Vegas TV news legends Bob Stoldal and the late Ned Day. Gentry left her reporting job in 1985 to focus on motherhood. She returned to TV news in 2001 to launch "Face to Face with Jon Ralston" and the weekly business programs In Business Las Vegas and Vegas Inc, which she co-anchored with Jeff Gillan. Dana has four adult children, two grandsons, three dogs, three cats and a cockatoo named Casper.