Las Vegas Sun

September 16, 2019

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Guest column:

Police staffing must be maintained for the sake of safety

Southern Nevada has experienced a substantial population increase since the early 2000s, which has led to discussions as to how the region could best preserve adequate police officer staffing levels in order to maintain public safety.

In November 2004, Clark County voters addressed this issue by approving Advisory Question 9, a nonbinding ballot measure which called for a sales tax increase of up to one half of one percent for hiring and equipping additional police officers to improve public safety.

In 2005, the Legislature passed Assembly Bill 418, also known as the More Cops Act, which was largely based on the language of Question 9. According to the bill, 80% of this newly established revenue source is to be allocated toward hiring additional uniformed officers for positions in patrol units and traffic control. In 2011, the Legislature added an amendment which imposed reporting requirements on the affected police departments to ensure accountability.

In the past 14 years since its implementation, the More Cops Act has helped Clark County’s five police departments increase their staffing levels. In the current fiscal year, nearly a quarter of Clark County’s 4,000 police officers are funded under the measure, which amounts to an average staffing level of 1.8 officers per 1,000 residents.

The More Cops Act now funds approximately a quarter of the officer positions at Metro Police, as well as sizable shares of the workforce at police departments in Boulder City, Henderson, Mesquite and North Las Vegas. This increased number has contributed to Clark County’s marked decrease in crime in recent years.

Unfortunately, Assembly Bill 418 included an expiration date of Oct. 1, 2025. This means that hundreds of officers’ jobs could be at risk if we fail to address the projected budget shortfalls of the county’s five police departments.

Las Vegas could lose the equivalent of as many as half the patrol officer staff at its 10 area commands, and programs such as the Office of Community Engagement and Homeless Outreach Team could be negatively affected. North Las Vegas could lose up to 70 officers, which is half the number of officers on patrol in the city.

Police departments in Mesquite and Boulder City, meanwhile, would be even more devastated by massive job losses.

This year, I introduced legislation aimed at heading off these reductions. The measure, Assembly Bill 443, would eliminate the upcoming expiration date of the provisions in the More Cops Act, thereby allowing police departments to better plan their staffing budgets going forward.

Police departments that use More Cops revenues are already tasked with reporting certain expenditures associated with hiring and employment costs. Assembly Bill 443 would expand reporting requirements to include training costs as well as equipment purchases for new officers, including items such as computers, radios, firearms and holsters. Additionally, the bill would promote greater accountability by making it a Category D felony to knowingly provide false or misleading information in the required reports.

This legislative session offers us a chance to remove the uncertainty around staffing budgets at Clark County’s police departments. This would not only keep more officers on patrol, but also improve public safety in our local communities. I hope my legislative colleagues and members of the public will join me in supporting this important piece of legislation.

Assemblywoman Dina Neal was first elected to the Nevada Assembly in 2010. She represents District 7 in the north-central Las Vegas Valley. She is also chair of the Committee on Taxation.