Friday, May 25, 2012 | 6:06 p.m.
North Las Vegas released 70 inmates from its jail Thursday, part of a plan to reduce the size of the facility brought on by a rash of correctional officers calling in sick last weekend, a city official said Friday.
The release of inmates — all of whom were nonviolent offenders — comes days after city leaders told corrections officers their jobs were in jeopardy as the city tries to balance its budget.
Nearly 50 shifts were not covered for three days last weekend due to correction officers calling in sick, he said. The sick calls forced the city to cover the shifts by paying overtime to officers.
Leonard Cardinale, president of the Police Supervisors Association, criticized the city’s move.
“Rather than pay overtime, they would release 70 inmates into the city of North Las Vegas,” Cardinale said.
Cardinale denied any suggestion the sick calls were orchestrated as part of a work action by union members.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a strike at all,” said Cardinale. He said talk of impending layoffs was creating undue stress for many officer worried about losing their jobs and what will happen to their families.
“There will be layoffs,” Bedwell said. How many, he said, depends on ongoing talks between the city and its police unions.
Bedwell defended the downsizing in light of the sick calls.
“We cannot make our officers work all the time,” Bedwell said. “It’s not efficient.”
A city judge had ordered the release of the inmates. Those released were close to finishing their sentences for nonviolent misdemeanor crimes like not paying speeding tickets, driving on a suspended license or shoplifting, Bedwell said.
The releases are part of a plan to shut down a wing of the jail, Bedwell said.
About 150 employees work at the jail, which holds about 200 inmates at any given time serving sentences of no longer than six months.
Cardinale said police department heads and city officials are in talks with Metro Police and Henderson Police about possibly using jails in those jurisdictions to house North Las Vegas criminals. He criticized that idea, too.
“That’s not an efficient way to use the taxpayers’ money,” he said.
North Las Vegas leaders say a down economy and high foreclosure and unemployment rates have caused revenue streams to dry up and left the city with a $33 million budget gap to plug. Part of their plan to trim expenditures is to win additional concessions from the city’s police and firefighter unions. Those unions say they’ve made substantial concessions in past years.
North Las Vegas city leaders have until June 1 to present a balanced budget to the state.