Saturday, Jan. 21, 2006 | 7:59 a.m.
Seven months after announcing its intentions to hire a first-in-the-nation homeless liaison, Metro Police still has not filled the position, an official said.
After a first round of candidates did not work out, 15 new candidates were chosen to take a test in mid-February. The tests will be followed by background checks, meaning there will no liaison on the streets until at least April, Capt. Stavros Anthony said.
"This is new territory for us, too, and we're trying to determine who's the best person," Anthony said.
The position would pay from $57,864 to $82,353.
More information on the delay in hiring was not available because personnel matters are confidential, Anthony said.
News of the position being vacant dismayed members of civil liberties and homeless organizations who have been following the issue, concerned about the controversy surrounding police in recent years because of sweeps of homeless camps and ongoing arrests for misdemeanors such as sleeping on a bus bench.
"Las Vegas needs to move forward on this quickly ... because the issues are still out there," said Michael Stoops, acting executive director of the Washington-based National Coalition for the Homeless.
The position was hailed by national experts after its June announcement as being unique in the nation.
Similarly, in an otherwise blistering report released last week titled "A Dream Denied: the Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities," Stoops wrote that the liaison position "rais(ed) its (Metro's) level of commitment after being criticized for its handling of the homeless situation."
The report ranked Las Vegas fifth nationwide in a list of the "Twenty Meanest Cities" in their treatment of the homeless.
Gary Peck, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, said he was "certainly among those who commend the department for announcing the position."
"But it is unfortunate it has taken as long as it has," Peck said.
Peck said filling the position is important because "homeless people are constantly being harassed and arrested for petty offenses," making the delay seem like a case of "the left hand and right hand not working in coordination."
The job announcement said the liaison would "facilitate(s) alternatives to incarceration."
Stoops said having such a person linked to a police department is vital because "the police are out there on the streets 24 hours a day and ... (this could) break down the barriers between the homeless and police."
If successful, he said, the program "could be emulated around the nation."
Timothy Pratt can be reached at 259-8828 or at [email protected]