Las Vegas Sun

October 20, 2014

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Sun editorial:

Time for more cops

Clark County Commission should approve sheriff’s sales tax plan to increase staffing

Sheriff Doug Gillespie will ask the Clark County Commission this month for a small sales tax increase to pay for more police officers.

It will be the third time Gillespie has gone to the commission in hopes of raising more money. After the first two efforts failed, this version should pass muster. Gillespie appears to have answered the commission’s questions, and a study by the well-regarded analyst Jeremy Aguero bolsters the sheriff’s case.

Gillespie is asking for a sales tax increase of 0.15 percent over two years. Under the plan, the tax would be increased in two steps, but it’s conditional on Metro Police hiring more officers and spending some reserve funds set aside from the 2004 More Cops initiative.

In a meeting last week with the Sun’s editorial board, Gillespie said the upcoming 2015 budget year would be a “crossroads” for Metro. The department is facing a $30 million shortfall, and it is seeing the effects of years of budget cuts.

Since the recession, law enforcement budgets have eroded, but the work hasn’t. Las Vegas’ population has continued to grow, as have tourism numbers, but Metro has nearly 500 fewer officer positions than it had at its peak several years ago.

The result is that officers are often responding to one call after another instead of doing proactive police work. Gillespie said the number of stops officers initiate — such as pulling over a speeding car while on patrol — are down nearly 25 percent over the past few years. Response times also have increased.

The department also has left detective positions unfilled to keep patrol officers on the street.

As it is, Metro has fewer cops per capita than many police agencies in the United States. Aguero’s report says the average major police department has 2.42 officers per 1,000 residents. The Los Angeles Police Department has 2.62; Metro has 1.72. And the per-capita comparison doesn’t take into account the thousands of tourists who visit Las Vegas every week.

Meanwhile, Metro has seen an increase in crime, which sadly shouldn’t be a surprise.

Gillespie said Metro is looking to find ways to save money, but services are being affected. Based on current budgeting trends, Aguero estimates that Metro would lose about a quarter of its police force by 2020.

Commissioners, who will hear the plan Jan. 21, have disagreed with various versions of the proposal and fretted about raising taxes. They also have raised questions about Metro’s budget and how money is being spent.

After seeing Aguero’s analysis of the tax plan, they should be convinced. Metro would hire 101 officers over the next two years and stave off further cuts. The police departments of Henderson, North Las Vegas, Boulder City and Mesquite also would receive money to hire more officers.

As we wrote last summer when the issue first came to the county commission:

“Crime is up, the number of police officers is down.

“This can’t be that hard to figure out, can it?”

It shouldn’t be this time around. County commissioners should support the plan, which should go a long way toward boosting public safety.

The men and women of Metro risk their lives every day to keep us safe. The least we can ask of the county commission is to risk a little political heartburn by giving the sheriff what he needs to protect us.

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