I-Team: Public Trust: Metro Police Salaries - 8 News NOW

Investigative Reporter Jonathan Humbert and Photojournalist Alex Brauer

I-Team: Public Trust: Metro Police Salaries

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LAS VEGAS -- A mid-day raid with SWAT on hand is a dark, but routine part of Metro's year. It's a routine that can also cost thousands of extra dollars in call-back pay and overtime.

"This is big city policing, and there are a lot of demands," Metro Sheriff Doug Gillespie said. Gillespie has heard the recent criticism. He also knows the city and county are running at razor-thin budget levels. "Salary and benefits can't continue to do this when revenues are doing this," he said.

But, Metro's overtime continues to pad take-home pay. Tens of thousands of dollars in overtime are not out of the question. Metro Police employee Theresa Garza is a good example. Her base pay is $77,000. But, she took home $49,000 in overtime. James Villareal's normal pay is $85,000. But, he's Metro's top recipient of overtime, snagging nearly $52,000 last year.

Longevity pay can also boost a salary. If you stick with Metro long enough, you can get up to a 15% pay increase, just for showing up to work. That's on top of your yearly raise. Assistant Sheriff Ray Flynn is in his 30th year of service with Metro. Those percent bumps gave him an extra $26,000 last year. The same holds true for Las Vegas City Councilman Stavros Anthony, who also works for Metro. He joined the force in 1980 and pulled in an additional $11,000 for staying on the job in 2009.

Call-back pay can line paychecks. Taxpayers, meanwhile, get little in return. Gillespie says it can happen with SWAT. They get random calls at odd hours. When officers get called in from home, they are paid a minimum of four hours, even if they don't work the whole time.

Metro says it helps keep the best cops on the force. "I don't think police officers at the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department are overpaid," Gillespie said.

Gillespie's friendly rival during labor negotiations is Las Vegas Police Protective Association Director Chris Collins. The union boss defends police earnings. "The men and women who work in law enforcement deserve the money they make, I believe," he said. It is Collins' job to hold the line on cuts and cling to every perk and benefit. The I-Team asked Collins about high pay and a handful of officers creeping up to $160,000 a year or more with large chunks in overtime. "I'd be surprised if more than a couple of my officers made that kind of money," he said.

Metro's own data proves otherwise in many cases. Collins is quick to point out that Metro's overtime numbers don't mention special events. "If there's a big fight in town, or you know, the marathon," he said. Taxpayers don't pay the overtime for those events. The venues and organizers do. But, it still means officers pull extra duty.

Collins says those extra shifts make up for the unprecedented move to pass up cost-of-living increases for two years in a row. "This is the first true give-back that I'm aware of," he said. Still, he continues to hold the line in other areas. "These budget restraints that we're currently all under, the City of Las Vegas and Clark County, you cannot solve those on the backs of just the employees," he said.

The sheriff, meanwhile, will make the cuts he has to, balancing potential waste with safety. "I never consider this organization to be fat," Sheriff Gillespie said. "When you're making cuts to the level that we have, it impacts you as an organization."

Gillespie says he wants to re-examine call-back pay. He's considering cutting it to two hours instead of a guaranteed four. He also wants to reduce overtime by 15% and slash the overall budget by 7%. He won't fill many open positions, and the squad car fleet will age a little longer before replacement. Critics say paying high salaries and letting perks and bonuses go on for years created part of this problem.

All this week, the I-Team will be looking at government salaries. We've compiled a comprehensive list from several governments and agencies and you can see it here.

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