I-Team: Tax Money for More Police Falls Short in NLV - 8 News NOW

Investigative Reporter Colleen McCarty & Photojournalist Kyle Zuelke

I-Team: Tax Money for More Police Falls Short in NLV

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The More Cops Sales Tax initiative passed on a promise to put more patrol officers on the streets of southern Nevada. Millions generated by the quarter-cent sales tax hike was supposed to increase the rate of police officers per resident. Yet the Channel 8 I-Team has discovered -- in one city -- the numbers just don't add up.

Local government continues to fund the police department as it always has plus it can add even more officers with the "more cops" sales tax. Trouble is, the city of North Las Vegas has far fewer police than projected. Some are questioning whether the tax has lived up to its end of the bargain.

"Hurry up and get your weapon together. You're in a gun battle right now. Somebody's going to shoot you because you can't get your weapon together," barks Henderson Police Officer Larry Jannotti to a new recruit.

Some of the recruits in his class will end up serving in the least protected city in southern Nevada -- North Las Vegas.

"Obviously we need more police officers," said North Las Vegas Police Chief Joe Forti. "The need for officers is definitely a high priority, needs to be a high priority for us."

North Las Vegas voters deemed it a high priority in 2004 with their overwhelming support of the "more cops" sales tax increase. A quarter-cent to put more cops on the streets. Following its passage, the city approved more than 100 additional patrol officer positions to be funded using "more cops" money. To date, the city has fewer than half of that number.

People believed they were going to get an additional boost of police officers and it simply hasn't happened.

"I don't know that I would agree with that and maybe we can agree to disagree. What our numbers reflect is that we have hired additional police officers that are actually on the street, more bodies, that we have indeed allocated more positions for police officers," said Gregory Rose, North Las Vegas city manager.

Rose points to 79 police officers currently paid for with the "more cops" fund. Yet according to police statistics, the figure fails to represent a true increase in the number of cops.

The city of North Las Vegas pays for police out of three different funds, the general fund, a separate public safety tax fund, and the "more cops" fund.

According to records obtained by the I-Team, the city has 47 officers originally hired under "more cops".  Instead of increasing those ranks, in February of 2008, the city shifted 32 police officers paid for out the general fund and the out of the public safety tax fund into the "more cops" fund. That effectively freed up the money spent on those salaries and benefits for other things.

"Would I have done that? I think I would not have done that. I would've left those positions where they were in the general fund and in the public safety tax and then you still have positions in more cops," Forti said.

In a memo obtained by the I-Team, the city finance director explains that Chief Forti knew about the plan to move the officers. It is a claim he adamantly denies. Forti tells the I-Team that his staff discovered the shift nearly a year after it occurred.

"Maybe Chief Forti was distracted, maybe he simply didn't hear, I don't want to talk about heresy because I don't see that as my role. What I see my role being is making sure that the public and our council have what the facts are," said Rose.

The facts according to Rose, is that he directed his staff to hire all new officers first from the "more cops" fund. The presence of positions elsewhere, some on the books for more than a year, was merely a mistake.

"Some were wrongly coded, we're not denying that. But we have not decreased the number of officers that we have had. In fact, we've increased the number of officers," said Rose. Increased by far fewer than projected. Instead of more than 100 new officers, North Las Vegas has 47 hired under the "more cops" money which was a taxpayer investment of millions of dollars.

Reporter Colleen McCarty: "Did they get what they paid for? Did they get what they were promised?"

Chief Forti: "We're down right now, we're struggling to get what the citizens may have wanted."

The I-Team recently uncovered an email copied to the chief -- dated last year -- notifying a low level police staffer of the officer shift. The e-mail also says the chief was aware of the moves.   The chief insists he never the saw the email and knew nothing of the shifts until earlier this year. Subsequent emails seem to support his assertion. The issue of whether the city has properly spent its "more cops" money has local officials asking questions.

Reporter Colleen McCarty will have a follow up on Friday at 5 p.m.  Click here to email Colleen McCarty.

 

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