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You paid extra taxes to get more cops on the streets. But the Channel 8 I-Team has learned North Las Vegas may have used the funds to reduce its commitment to public safety.
As the I-Team first reported, instead of hiring new officers using the More Cops money, the City of North Las Vegas added police on paper, shifting 32 officers already on the payroll, some for more than year, into the More Cops fund.
The move has prompted questions about the city's use of the voter-approved tax.
On a council crowded with veteran politicians, Richard Cherchio is a rookie with a fresh perspective, which may explain why he spent his first months as a North Las Vegas City Councilman looking back 10 years. "It was alluded to me that there was a problem there," he said.
He's referring to a dispute between the city and its police department about the use of the More Cops fund. A quarter cent sales tax hike approved by voters in 2004 to put more police on patrol. "There's no doubt in my mind as to what the thought processes were of the people at the time who voted for it. They wanted more cops. I wanted more cops," he said.
To determine whether North Las Vegas got more cops, Cherchio asked city and police department staff to detail a decade's worth of police hires by fund. With respect to More Cops, the city notes 47 officers hired under the fund. The police department claim 46. That's far fewer than the more than 100 positions initially approved by the council.
"There should be more than what's in there right now -- substantially more. We're not talking about 10 or 20 cops, we could be talking maybe 50 cops, you know," said Cherchio.
"When the initiative was approved, I don't think we had identified at that point how many officers we would end up hiring. What we did say is we will hire more officers and we have honored that," said City Manager Gregory Rose.
Rose bristles at any suggestion the city has misused its more cops money. North Las Vegas, insists Rose, followed the letter of the law, including a provision meant to preserve existing city funding of police services. "The reality is what the law provides for and as long as we don't reduce the police department's budget, which we did not, it is an appropriate use of those funds," he said.
City financial records show since the inception of More Cops, North Las Vegas has increased the amount of money allocated the police department, while at the same time decreasing the overall percentage of the city budget earmarked for police services.
A department memo obtained by the I-Team notes the city has not hired a new police officer from its general fund in five years. "I just don't know why that was done. It was explained to me how it can be done within the letter of the law, but I'm just uncomfortable with that explanation," said Cherchio.
When it comes to public safety, Cherchio professes no patience for semantics. "People designated a certain amount of money to go to More Cops. Simple. And that's what we're trying to determine now and I think we will get to that point. I think the people have the right to know that," said Cherchio.
Councilman Cherchio believes the More Cops fund should be audited. He is exploring ways to make that happen.
The I-Team also spoke with state Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick. She's working with the legislative legal counsel to explore the legality of the city's actions.