Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014 | 4:30 p.m.
The cash-strapped North Las Vegas Police Department, which hasn't hired a new officer in five years, is getting a $1.6 million boost from the U.S. Justice Department to enlist 13 new recruits, the city announced today.
Officials vowed to use the grant to hire more minority officers to diversify the city's police force.
North Las Vegas' police force is 71 percent white compared with a city population that is just 31 percent white. The city is 39 percent Latino and 20 percent black.
"We are very cognizant of that," Chief Joseph Chronister said. "We will ensure that we utilize our folks to go and recruit in those specific areas to help us. We want to replicate the community's demographics."
Mayor John J. Lee announced the grant today at a news conference flanked by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford, whose district includes North Las Vegas.
The new recruits should start training by January. A previous Justice Department grant this year is funding training for three incoming officers. One is black, one is Asian and one is white.
Across the country, the diversity of police departments lags the communities they serve, an issue brought to light by the Aug. 9 shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white officer in Ferguson, Mo., and the protests that followed.
Crippled by a financial crisis, North Las Vegas hasn't hired a new officer since 2009 despite losing nearly 70 since then. At its peak, the department had 340 officers. Today it has 262.
"It has been a real challenge," said Capt. Alex Perez, who oversees the department's Southern Area Command.
Perez said the department tried to recruit minorities they meet while patrolling the streets of North Las Vegas. He said the department's financial woes prevented the city from doing more.
"We need to do more. We know that," Chronister said. "We have absolutely limited resources."