Two years after a gunman perched in the window of a Mandalay Bay suite killed 58 and injured hundreds more, closure remains elusive for Las Vegas, the small town at the heart of a tourist mecca.
The Strip acreage that turned into a killing field on October 1, 2017, is destined to become a community center someday, according to its owner, an affiliate of MGM Resorts International. First, it will serve as a parking lot for football fans, according to news reports.
The lawsuits filed against MGM by thousands of shooting victims and their families are in mediation. Settlement amounts have been estimated at as much as $800 million.
Cordell Hendrex, the police officer who says he froze with terror in the hallway as shots rained down on concertgoers has been fired and is appealing his termination.
And tourism, which floundered in the year following the massacre, is rebounding.
What’s been done in the two years since the massacre to prevent it from happening again?
Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo refused to be interviewed by the Nevada Current, as did other members of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.
But the “after-action” review released by Metro this summer calls on the resort industry to step up its security to ward off another attack.
“It’s the responsibility of private-sector partners to maintain and train hotel and casino security personnel to safely address violent threats on their properties,” the report says.
“In the aftermath of October 1, LVMPD leadership and the private-sector hotel industry held conversations about the tourist corridor of the Las Vegas Strip,” Metro states. ”The discussions centered on the responsibility of private-sector partners to maintain and train hotel and casino security personnel to safely address violent threats on their properties.”
“As of the completion of this report, numerous Las Vegas Strip properties, including several MGM resorts, have implemented this program and trained employees in active-shooter response for their respective hotels and casinos,” the report says. Metro would not identify participating hotels.
The report also makes note of industry “emergency-response team officers (ERTOs), such as those developed by MGM Resorts International in the Spring of 2017.”
“ERTOs provide highly visible, covert armed security on MGM properties,” the report says, without explanation of the contradiction in terms. “ERTOs intervene in potential emergencies including acts or threats of violence involving a weapon. … An Emergency Response Team responds immediately, before law enforcement arrives.”
According to a tweet from MGM Director of Safety Wendy Price in the days following the shooting, Mandalay Bay “has its own emergency and response training team.”
Neither the company nor police will say where Mandalay Bay’s emergency response team was during the shooting. Metro’s minute-by-minute account of the shooting makes no mention of assistance from the hotel’s team.
George Togliatti, the director of Nevada’s Department of Public Safety, was an MGM security executive at the time of the shooting. Togliatti has refused to say what became of MGM’s emergency response team the night of the shooting.
Wynn Resorts, under the guidance of Steve Wynn, was the first hotel company to form an elite response team made up of former law enforcement and military personnel. Caesars Entertainment has since instituted such a team.
See Something, Say Something
About three years before Stephen Paddock unleashed his weapons on a concert crowd across the Strip from his Mandalay Bay hotel window, police arrested a Mandalay Bay guest when hotel staff discovered weapons in his room, including a rifle pointed out the window at the Las Vegas Strip. As the Current reported on the first anniversary of the Las Vegas shooting, the incident was not widely shared among hotel security chiefs.
The first recommendation in Metro’s report on lessons learned says “Maintain open communication with key stakeholders in the tourism industry by holding monthly meetings and sending notifications when necessary to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, Las Vegas Security Chiefs Association, and community stakeholders.”
“Frozen with fear”
Cordell Hendrex, the Metro officer who told investigators he was “frozen with fear” as he waited on the 31st floor of Mandalay Bay while shots rang out above, is fighting his termination from the police department.
The cases mirrors that of Broward County deputy Scot Peterson, who failed to confront the shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Peterson faces criminal charges.
Is it reasonable to expect a patrol officer armed with a handgun to advance on a suspect armed with an arsenal?
“This (Hendrex) is a patrol officer who didn’t have the benefit of SWAT equipment and training to utilize,” says Thor Eells, Executive Director of the National Tactical Officers Association, who says police have long encountered the kind of weaponry displayed by Paddock.
“Certainly Hollywood and TV have not helped create a realistic expectation of what officers are going to be able to do,” Eells says. “We train officers to assess threats and based on that threat and ability to mitigate the danger, to take action. Training, tactics and tools. That’s the three-legged stool used to assess risk. They are not trained to charge into a scenario that’s not likely to benefit the situation.”
“SWAT teams are very capable but as we learned in Columbine and other places, response of SWAT teams can take time,” Eells says. “What we do is push training down, but it’s costly and takes time to achieve the level of proficiency to be effective at it.”
Training is time-consuming, takes officers off the streets and necessitates calling in other officers to meet staffing levels, Eells says.
“We could have units out and available and capable of intervening in a quicker, more effective manner, but we live in an open and free society,” he says. “There’s a balance to be struck between the normalcy we’re used to and achieving absolute safety.”
Eells says the military has invested time and money “trying to assess the mentality of how you’ll behave in combat.”
“While they’ve achieved some degree of success, it’s still a very difficult behavioral trait to accurately assess,” he says. “Even though we’ve made strides in how people should engage an active shooter, everyone who participates knows its a training scenario. They know they are going to go home at the end of the day. It’s entirely different when real bullets are impacting around you. Until that very moment it’s impossible to predict accurately what an individual is going to do.”
A blip on tourism radar screen
Before the shooting massacre on the Las Vegas Strip, tourism officials worried a major incident would cripple the casino resort industry, which directly employs some 400,000 Nevadans.
Thanks in part to a U.S. citizenry shell-shocked by an unending series of mass shootings, that hasn’t happened.
“The impact was limited to the last quarter of 2017 and early 2018,” says Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority Marketing executive Jackie Dennis.
Visitor volume slipped slightly in 2018. Year-to-date in 2019, visitor volume is up .06 percent from last year, when 42.1 million visitors came to Las Vegas.
Daily room rates in 2019 average $132.25, up 4 percent from last year. The amount of revenue generated per room each day, a key indicator in the resort industry, is $118.32, up 4.6 percent from last year.