Friday, Jan. 11, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Crime in Las Vegas increased roughly 9 percent last year compared with 2011, underscoring the need for more police funding, Sheriff Doug Gillespie told the Sun’s editorial board Thursday.
Property crimes and assaults fueled the increase, but homicides remained relatively flat, said Gillespie, who added that a “bullet a little more to the right or the left” in some instances could have increased the number of homicides.
Gillespie, addressing a wide range of topics during the meeting, frequently cited his desire for a quarter-cent sales tax increase in Clark County to fund officer positions as a means to combat rising crime numbers.
In 2004, Clark County voters approved a half-cent sales tax increase, only a quarter-cent of which has been imposed so far. Gillespie — with the support of Gov. Brian Sandoval, the Clark County Commission and Las Vegas City Council — is seeking approval from the Nevada Legislature to enact the second quarter-cent increase.
“As the sheriff of this county, more cops is my priority,” Gillespie said. “We need to get that funding. We really do.”
Gillespie said Metro Police employs 300 fewer officers than it did during its pre-recession peak in staffing. The department is operating under a $46 million budget shortfall, he said.
“When you eliminate those positions and you reduce investigative components” and officers cannot do as much proactive policing, Gillespie said, “you start to see some of the crime numbers coming back.”
He pointed to the Northwest Area Command as an example of current low staffing. On most shifts, two squads — each of which is made up of nine officers if no one is sick, on vacation or doing training — cover more than 100 square miles, equivalent to the land area of a city like Baltimore.
During the meeting, Gillespie also shared his view on the following topics:
Police fatality review process
Gillespie was upbeat about this newly adopted process, which will replace the old coroner’s inquests into fatal officer-involved shootings.
In October, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled the inquest process adopted by the county in 2010 was legal but said justices of the peace could not preside over the hearings. Commissioners this week opted to scrap the inquest in favor of a police fatality review process.
Under the new system, once the district attorney determines the officer was justified in a shooting, the review will be triggered. A presiding officer and an ombudsman will be chosen for the hearing and they will receive access to investigatory documents used by the prosecutor. At the hearing, the prosecutor will make a presentation on the essential facts of the case, which may include testimony from the police officer charged with investigating the officer-involved shooting. The prosecutor may call other witnesses, who can be questioned by the ombudsman and the presiding officer.
The presiding officer will also be allowed to ask questions submitted by members of the public.
“I think it really has the ability to provide, in a public forum … a way to present the facts of what happened,” he said.
Gillespie said he was not discounting concerns among police union officials, who have recommended their members not testify if subpoenaed for the review panel. Chief among the union's concern is that the officer still could be subject to prosecution, either in state or federal court.
Regardless of the type of review for officer-involved shootings, Gillespie said people still would make up their own minds as to whether an officer’s actions were justified.
In the wake of recent mass shootings, Gillespie said it’s time for the country to take a look at why these tragedies occur by assembling a cross-section of people, such as mental health advocates and gun industry members, to examine the issue.
“I don’t support an assault weapons ban,” he said. “I don’t see that as eliminating or changing what’s occurred.”
Instead, Gillespie said he would support restrictions on high-capacity magazines, the ammunition storage and feeding devices of certain firearms. Reloading magazines can be a tricky process, which could trip up anyone intent on committing a mass shooting, he said.
“They’re not nearly as good at manipulating the weapon as they think,” he said.
In the meantime, Gillespie said law enforcement should continue focusing on how to make public places, such as schools, churches and malls, safer.
Gillespie said he hoped a national conversation about these issues would start now, but he would not want lawmakers making rushed decisions to complex questions.
“Because of the close proximity of what happened in Newtown and what happened in Aurora, it’s fresh in everybody’s mind and we need to take advantage of that,” he said.