Retired Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) Officer Ashton Packe, who helped respond to the Route 91 Harvest Festival shooting in October 2017, revealed what he carries in his bag to stay prepared during the most unexpected of events.
Packe spoke about the heroism he saw the day of the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, the strength of the LVMPD and the importance of establishing positive relationships between police and community members at CrimeCon 2022, a true-crime conference held in Las Vegas between April 28 and May 1.
"At the end of the day, we don't know what the universe is going to throw our way. There are some things we can't control. There are some things we can. But … situational awareness, safety training. I carry a tourniquet in all my vehicles. I have several — one for me and one for the person who's hurt. It's just like a medical kit. I just have it. It's ready to go. It's like having a fire extinguisher in your house," Packe, who served on the LVMPD's Counter-Terrorism Section, said.
In his bag, he "always" carries a firearm, a knife, a tourniquet and a handcuff key.
"You never know who might try to grab you and take you out, but I don't think the average everyday citizen has to worry about those things," he said. "But a medical kit and a tourniquet and a way to stop a sucking chest wound was very, very important."
Aside from physical tools, Packe also emphasized the importance of staying physically active, eating healthy and taking time to pray or meditate on a regular basis to keep the mind and body sharp in the event of a crisis. "Situational awareness," he said, is just as important as having the right tools in one's bag.
He recalled a display of heroism on the day of the Harvest Festival shooting that left 58 people dead and more than 800 injured after Stephen Paddock opened fire on concertgoers from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel before killing himself.
"I highlight the story of Mike Gracia. He is a Southern California police officer who was at the festival. He was shot in the head. He went down. I won't go too graphic on the injury and how bad it was initially, but his wife basically put it back together, and then she got shot, and then she just had enough situational awareness to go and grab some cowboys and say, 'My husband's a police officer, please get him to help he needs.'"
Gracia's wife — then his fiancée — tracked his phone to a trauma center and showed up "with a compression…with her own injuries," Packe explained. The couple now has a child together.
"You saw civilians at the after incident turn into first responders, the heroes, the heroics of that night. I always say I did nothing heroic that night other than show up," Packe said. "The real heroes are the men and women who sprung into action. Some of them just, you know, everyday citizens. But knew that their fellow man needed that immediate help."
The retired officer is now the national director of law enforcement engagement at Hope for Prisoners, a nonprofit that provides support services for the formerly incarcerated to successfully reenter society. The organization also aims to establish strong relationships between community members, mentors and law enforcement officers. Just 6% of former inmates reenter correctional facilities after taking part in the program, according to Packe.
"Everyone who goes through our session meets police officers, learns their stories, shakes hands with cops, and at the end of the day, you build a rapport. You have a relationship with someone. And so down the road, that is going to keep police safe and it could be a — you know, 'I'm getting stopped. Okay. I know cops, I've met them. They're cool,'" Packe said, adding that the organization also teaches people how to file complaints against officers they take issue with.
Packe also believes the key to ensuring a strong police department with positive community ties is having a good "culture."
"It's not just a policy because policy gets eaten by the culture for breakfast. They'll eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Culture drives police organizations. You can have all the great policies in the world, but if your culture is the opposite of the policy, they're going to fail," Packe explained.
The LVMPD, which is said is among the best in the world, was one of the first to embrace body cameras and the first to "convict an officer for oppression under the color of office for the use of body camera footage."
"Not everyone is perfect. We know. We train them. We say, ‘Police will make mistakes.’ You just have to know when you made the mistake and then correct it. You know, we don't expect you to be perfect. …As you're doing it for the best intentions and you have a good hear, I think, you know, your police career will be fine," the retired officer said.
Hope for Prisoners graduates more than 450 formerly incarcerated people every year. The organization is based in Las Vegas but hopes to expand to other correctional and police facilities across the country.