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Sheriff Doug Gillespie drops bomb, says he won’t seek re-election to third term

Metro Police Hold News Conference after Ammar Harris Arrested

Steve Marcus

Sheriff Douglas Gillespie addresses reporters during a news conference at Las Vegas Metropolitan Police headquarters Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013 after Ammar Harris was arrested in North Hollywood, Calif. Harris, 26, is charged with murder in the Feb. 21, 2013, shooting and accident on the Las Vegas Strip that left three people dead.

Updated Monday, Aug. 26, 2013 | 5:49 p.m.

Sheriff Doug Gillespie

Clark County Sheriff Douglas Gillespie speaks during an editorial board meeting with Las Vegas Sun staff inside his office in Las Vegas on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2012. Launch slideshow »

Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie, in an announcement that reverberated throughout the Las Vegas Valley, said he would not seek re-election in 2014 but would finish his second term in office.

“I am making this announcement today, as I want the department focused on the business of serving this community and not speculating on the politics of this job,” Gillespie said in a letter to the media. Messages left with Gillespie for comment were not immediately returned.

Instead of campaigning and fundraising, Gillespie wrote he wanted to focus on completing objectives, such as the "More Cops" sales tax initiative to hire additional officers.

The More Cops initiative, however, hangs in limbo awaiting a vote by the Clark County Commission. On Aug. 6, commissioners delayed a vote on the proposed sales tax increase, which would pay for more officers.

“There is nothing more important to me and nothing I am more committed to seeing through,” Gillespie wrote.

In his letter, Gillespie noted that his staff should be “proud” of several accomplishments, such as the Safe Village Initiative, the terrorism liaison officer program and the department’s commitment to community-oriented policing.

Few, if any, saw Gillespie's announcement coming; as recently as April he told at least one Las Vegas media outlet he would seek a third term in 2014.

“I‘m shocked by the announcement,” Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn G. Goodman said. “While he’s been sheriff I’ve always felt safe on the streets and know that he has always put forth his best efforts on behalf of our community.”

Clark County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak said Gillespie seemed intent on seeking a third term two weeks ago when they met for lunch.

Gillespie also didn’t mention he wouldn't seek re-election during this morning’s Metro Fiscal Affairs Committee meeting, Sisolak said.

“He’s had a tough year,” Sisolak said, acknowledging he had no clear insight as to why Gillespie changed his mind. “He’s gone through an awful lot. Public service takes a lot out of you.”

County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said she hadn’t heard any rumblings prior to Monday that Gillespie would not seek re-election.

“I don’t think (Gillespie) really cared for the campaigning side of his job,” Giunchigliani said. “Maybe everything happening in the department and trying to move More Cops through weighed on him.”

Not everyone is sad to see Gillespie's days numbered atop the city-county police force.

“I think this will give the community an opportunity at a fresh start to be able to rebuild the relationships that seem to have been lost between the officers and the members of the community” said Tod Story, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada.

Story said the ACLU has had several meetings with Metro about the department's policies. In those meetings he said the ACLU had frequently found a "lack of genuine interest" in improving the rapport between Metro officers and the citizens they protect.

An eight-month Department of Justice study into Metro's use-of-force policies completed in 2012 found inadequacies in officer training and overall accountability within the department. The study was sparked by 25 officer-involved shootings in 2010 and another 17 in 2011.

Gillespie created a citizens review board to look into officer-involved shootings and to make recommendations to the sheriff based on the information it learned.

In late July, Gillespie announced he would not fire Officer Jacquar Roston, who mistakenly shot an unarmed man in the leg during a domestic-violence call last year. Gillespie’s decision overturned the recommendation of the department’s Use of Force Review Board, which had sought termination.

The fallout began almost immediately when former Assistant Sheriff Ted Moody, who served as the board’s chairman, abruptly retired Aug. 26. Six civilian members followed suit and also resigned from the board, citing their doubt the review board’s decisions would ever carry any weight.

Chris Collins, executive director of the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, the union for the department’s rank-and-file officers, said he was skeptical Gillespie would mold his political decision based on recent events.

“Maybe he thinks he has fulfilled his vision as sheriff,” Collins said. “I don’t think he would shy away from (a third term) because of the turmoil we’re going through right now.”

Without casting blame on Gillespie, Collins acknowledged department morale was at an “all-time low,” largely because officers feel overburdened. Metro has lost roughly 450 police officer positions since the economic downturn, Collins said.

Getting more officers on Las Vegas streets should be Gillespie’s priority as well as that of the incoming sheriff, Collins said.

“The workload is increasing, not decreasing,” he said. “The community deserves to be safe; the officers themselves deserve to be safe.”

Giunchigliani said she thought Gillespie had done the best he could at a tough job, and although he’d made some progress changing the culture of the department, there’s still more that needed to be done.

“Those things may be going on internally, but we don’t really know,” she said.

As for the proposed sales tax increase, Sisolak said “we’ll have to wait and see” how Gillespie’s decision affects its future.

The commission does not plan to discuss the More Cops Initiative at its next meeting or two, Sisolak said.

Collins said he thought Gillespie’s legacy would be his efforts to partner with a wide array of community groups, such as the ACLU, Latin Chamber of Commerce and resort corridor officials.

“He reached into the community through some of the special interest groups a lot farther than any sheriff I’ve known,” Collins said.

Gillespie specifically thanked the community for its support during his seven years as sheriff.

“Although my role is changing, I will continue to be of service in other ways,” he wrote. “One of the things I have learned over the years is that we have an exceptional department and an extraordinary community.”

By January 2015, when his term ends, Gillespie will have been employed by Metro Police for 34 years. He received a total of $181,019.44 in pay and benefits in 2012.

Gillespie, as sheriff, is in charge of a department with an annual budget of $489 million and more than 2,500 commission officers. In 2012, Metro estimated it responded to more than 1.1 million 911 calls in Clark County.

The filing period for candidates running for office in next year’s election happens in March, although candidates can pre-register earlier.

Staff reporters Conor Shine and Bethany Barnes contributed to this report.

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