Las Vegas Review-Journal (Sunday)
‘Here to serve’
Collegial legislator draws on law enforcement experience
CARSON CITY — Tom Roberts got into law enforcement because of his mother, who is believed to be one of the first female officers with the Memphis Police Department.
His passion for law enforcement led to a second calling, as a Nevada assemblyman.
The epiphany to run for public office came during the 2007 Nevada legislative session, when Metro Police first sent him to the Statehouse as a lobbyist. That’s when “I fell in love with the policy side of it,” said Roberts, a Las Vegas Republican. “And I thought, ‘You know, someday I’d like to come back and maybe be elected and see what it’s like on the legislative side.’”
In 2018, Roberts was elected to the Nevada Assembly to represent District 13 in far northwest Las Vegas. He won reelection in 2020. Serving in elective office was a change for Roberts, who had retired from Metro after nearly 25 years of service, having ascended to assistant sheriff and playing a pivotal role in the Oct. 1, 2017, Strip mass shooting investigation,
Although Roberts’ law enforcement days are in the past, a plaque in his Legislative Building office that displays his six Metro badges, patches and commendations is surely a constant reminder.
As a lawmaker, he said, he focuses on serving all Nevadans and loathes partisan politics.
“I believe that I’m here to serve my constituents and do the best job for them I can; not to worry about getting reelected,” Roberts, 57, said. “That’s how I vote, that’s how I approach things, it’s for the betterment of my constituency and the state of Nevada, and that’s how I operate.”
But it’s not like he’s forgotten about his police colleagues, including the older of his two sons, who serves with Metro.
Presenting Assembly Bill 336 with Democratic Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno, D-North Las Vegas, in late March, who’s also a retired officer, Roberts spoke about the 31 Metro personnel who’ve taken their own lives since he first joined the department. Roberts knew 10 of them “closely,” he trained two of them, and one who died last year worked with him at the Legislature, testifying in front of lawmakers.
“It is personal,” Roberts said. “And it is up close, and these are the folks who didn’t get noticed, they didn’t get the help that they needed.”
AB 336 would require the Nevada Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training to adopt regulations to expand officers’ annual assessments to
include emotional and mental health screenings.
“When you think about what that job does to some people and how impactful it is on their lives,” Roberts said, “that impacts me.”
Assemblyman Glen Leavitt, R-Boulder City, who has been Roberts’ Carson City roommate since both were elected in 2018, describes his close friend and colleague as “Captain America.”
Roberts is “such a great guy in every way: great police officer, great legislator, great friend and a great family man,” Leavitt said. “It’s just hard not to like him.”
Leavitt said that Roberts wasn’t known to get riled up about policy, and instead was patient and even-keeled. “Temperance is one of his greatest assets,” Leavitt said, noting that it was contagious.
When Leavitt is flustered, he said, he likes to call Roberts, who has a manner that calms people.
As a legislator, Roberts is cerebral, Leavitt said. “He doesn’t try to overthink it, but doesn’t underthink it, either. He’s very thoughtful.”
Leavitt said Roberts was respected by lawmakers from both parties, but that he’s also a “straight shooter” when it comes to legislation with which he doesn’t agree. “It doesn’t matter what side of the aisle you’re on, he’ll let you know.”
Leavitt, who said he had made a friend for life, further described Roberts as being family-centered and as someone who can crack jokes and lighten the mood.
“Anyone who’s ever met Tom knows what a great guy he is,” Leavitt said, “what a tremendous human being he is.”
This session, Roberts, who is on the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, is supporting legislation that helps small businesses and those affected by the pandemic.
He said that with the “trifecta” of Democrats in control of the governor’s office, and majorities in both legislative bodies, bipartisan cooperation might be challenging.
“For the most part, I think my peers on the other side of the aisle are just as interested in the best interest of the state,” Roberts said. “Sometimes we just come to disagreements on how to get there.”
Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, who endorsed Roberts, has known him since both were new officers.
“He’s had a large sense of integrity and hard work for as long as I’ve known him,” Lombardo said.
As a head of Metro’s investigative functions, which included detectives, the crime lab and crime scene investigation personnel, and the direct contact with federal authorities in the aftermath of Oct. 1, 2017, then-Assistant Sheriff Roberts “did what he was trained to do,” Lombardo said. “He was heavily engaged, involved, and he took it to heart, personally.”
Lombardo said having a police veteran in the Legislature could help lawmakers contextualize policy and law when it comes to policing.
Roberts sees the merits of both sides of the police reform debate. He notes that the profession is constantly evolving and that officers are trained to follow changing laws. He respects peaceful protests but is opposed to the “defund the police” movement. He agrees, however that programs such as those that deal with mental health should be better funded as opposed to continuing to grow the criminal justice system.
“I think the profession will say that it always can change,” Roberts said. “I’m of the belief that we can. I just think we need to be collaborative, calculated and not do really sweeping changes … that could have negative consequences.”
Asked which of his endeavors has been more challenging, Roberts didn’t hesitate to answer: “This isn’t hard,” he said. “This
“When you walk on the floor and you realize: ‘OK, this is a body that represents every corner of the state. We may not agree on everything, but we all have a job to do, and I’m one of those 42 people on this side who get to do it.’ That’s rewarding.” — Assemblyman Tom Roberts, R-Las Vegas
is listening to two sides of an issue, making a determination on which way to vote.”
“Some of them are tough, but you have time, you have the ability to weigh the options,” he said. “Police officers don’t have the luxury a lot of times to make split-second decisions that are life and death, day in day out. Those are tough. That’s a much tougher job.”
Roberts was born in Tennessee and raised in Western Kentucky. He was 17 when he graduated high school and admits his brief stint in community college wasn’t great. While working in a mailroom for a local newspaper, he realized he needed to do better.
At 19, he joined the U.S. Air Force. In his nearly 10 years of service, during which he was a military police officer, the Air Force took him to Mississippi, Turkey and then Nevada.
He met his future wife in the military, where both were active. They fell in love, married, had two sons and have been in Nevada for about 30 years.
In the Air Force, he obtained an associate degree, then went on to get a bachelor’s degree at UNLV and a master’s degree at the University of Oklahoma. The family — including two small dogs — still live in Las Vegas.
At Metro, he was promoted to sergeant, lieutenant, captain, deputy chief and assistant sheriff.
He walks different hallways now. “Every time I walk onto the floor of the Assembly is rewarding,” Roberts said. “There’s something magical about it.”
“When you walk on the floor and you realize: ‘OK, this is a body that represents every corner of the state. We may not agree on everything, but we all have a job to do, and I’m one of those 42 people on this side who get to do it,’ ” Roberts said. “That’s rewarding.”