LAS VEGAS (KSNV MyNews3.com) — Most call it The Mob Museum, but the proper name is the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement. That second part is getting a boost, with a brand new exhibit about perhaps the best-known law enforcement name in the history of Southern Nevada, and its longest serving sheriff. Recently, News 3 got a chance to sit down and talk with the legendary Ralph Lamb.
"I thought Las Vegas was the safest place I knew," reminisces Lamb. "We didn't have any trouble here. They weren't shooting people on the street like people thought."
The Las Vegas Police Department was a separate organization when Lamb joined the much-smaller Clark County Sheriff's Department in 1948.
"But there was just seven of us, and that was Logandale, Moapa, Searchlight ... We had a man over there. So we kind of worked 12-hour shifts."
For Lamb, it was a good fit.
"I just stayed there and stayed there and kept getting ... they kept advancing me, you know. To a lieutenant, to a captain, chief of detectives. I just stayed, and it just happened to break right for me to run, so I ran."
On his first attempt at getting elected sheriff, Lamb came in second to W.E. "Butch" Leypoldt. But when Leypoldt stepped down to accept a governor's appointment to the Nevada Gaming Control Board, Lamb took the top position.
He gained a reputation as a "Cowboy Cop." But while comfortable in the rodeo ring, Lamb says he was not trigger happy. He says he fired his gun on the job a few times, but only when it was called for.
"It was always after a crime or somebody we were attempting to take into custody," says Lamb. "They might run. Might be shootin' at him to scare him. I never deliberately shot anybody. But I've tried to shoot at people to stop them from running, you know. Made them lay down and handcuffed them. Took 'em to jail."
Lamb was re-elected four times, presiding over the consolidation of the Sheriff's Department and Police Department to become the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department or "Metro" we know today.
While on the force, Lamb became aware of local organized crime, but thinks it's overblown in popular culture.
"We had no mob killings here," claims Lamb. "If they shot somebody or done away with somebody, they done it somewhere else."
Lamb may be referring to Las Vegas associated mobsters like Bugsy Siegel, killed in Los Angeles. Or Gus Greenbaum, murdered in his Phoenix home.
But Lamb kept an eye on organized crime members who were operating here.
"We exchanged information with the Gaming Board, the FBI and kept each other appraised. And lots of times I left a bad guy who came to town alone because I was asked by the FBI to leave him alone and see where he went. Who he associated with. What he was doing here. Couldn't find that just by going and grabbing him and running him out of town. So I'd leave him alone for a while."
That's as long as the wiseguys ran their rackets quietly. If they were disturbing the peace as Lamb saw it, it was time for them to go.
"Don't let nothing happen around here," Lamb explains. "And if a guy started getting out of whack a little bit we thought, we had the privilege of taking his work card away from him and running him out of town."
The full Ralph Lamb story includes much more than fits in this single Video Vault story. The new exhibit at the Mob Museum includes more information, pictures and artifacts.
Our conversation with Ralph Lamb covered many other areas, and you'll see some snippets in future Video Vault segments over the next few months.