Thursday, June 20, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Sheriff Doug Gillespie’s announcement this week that a police academy — the first one in more than a year — would start in July brought a couple dozen hopefuls to Metro's training center Wednesday morning.
The men and women listened intently as Deputy Chief Gary Schofield, who is in charge of the police academy, rattled off words such as “field training,” “testing process” and “de-escalation” during the informational session.
The next police academy begins July 11, with recruits who passed a barrage of tests last year, but the date also marks the beginning of a new testing period. Metro hopes to schedule another academy in early 2014.
“Our goal is to try to have constant academies as we move forward because our staffing levels on the street have substantially dropped,” Schofield said.
The last police academy was in January 2012, before budget cuts put a squeeze on Metro’s ability to hire more officers. Meanwhile, Metro has eliminated 506 positions in recent years, including 238 officers, 236 civilians and 32 temporary workers.
“It’s really unusual when you come up to this huge building because it’s quiet,” Schofield said while standing in the training center’s heritage hall, which is lined with photos of the academy’s graduating classes.
The reduced staffing prompted Clark County police departments this spring to lobby legislators to approve a quarter-center “More Cops” sales tax increase to hire more officers. Lawmakers met them somewhere in the middle.
During a two-hour special session called specifically to act on the “More Cops” legislation on June 4 — the morning after the regular 120-day session ended — the Legislature passed a slightly modified version of the bill, approving a 0.15 percent sales tax increase that requires final approval by the Clark County Commission.
The county commission is scheduled to begin discussing the increase at its July 2 meeting, with a final vote expected Aug. 6.
Schofield called the Legislature’s passage of the bill a “lifeline” for the department. Recruits training in the upcoming police academy, however, won’t become full-fledged patrol officers until July 2014, he said.
As for the new testing period, Schofield said he expected at least 1,000 people to take the exams. That number will be whittled to about 50 recruits for the next academy, he said.
Schofield said the new academies would include training to de-escalate situations — an effort to curb uses of deadly force — but communication skills would be emphasized the most.
“We’re not looking for someone simply looking to come and get a job and all the trappings of authority that come with the position,” he said. “We’re looking for community-oriented people.”
Michael Donnelly, 30, attended the open house Wednesday with hopes of returning to the training center in several months as a new recruit.
Born and raised in Las Vegas, Donnelly said he had always wanted to become a police officer and had worked a variety of jobs, including a stint as a security guard, while he waited for his opportunity.
“I’ve done anything and everything to survive in the recession,” he said. “I’ve scrubbed toilets with a smile.”