I-Team: Commissioners to Decide Fate of More Cops Sale Tax - 8 News NOW

I-Team: Commissioners to Decide Fate of More Cops Sale Tax

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Sgt. Dan Newberry works the swing shift in the Enterprise command. Sgt. Dan Newberry works the swing shift in the Enterprise command.

LAS VEGAS -- Clark County commissioners are facing a tough decision Tuesday on whether to increase the sales tax to support the Metro Police budget. They can choose to raise the sales tax by .15 percent or half that amount, or they could reject both proposals.

Metro officials say they've already been cut to the bone and can't afford to lose more officers if the tax hike doesn't pass.

Sheriff Doug Gillespie and former Sheriff Bill Young point out that the voters already approved a larger sales tax increase than will be considered Tuesday. A 2004 ballot advisory asked for two quarter-cent increases in the sales tax. The first one was approved, but the second was rejected, then whittled down by the legislature and again by the county commission.

The lawmen say, even the larger of the two options up for a vote tomorrow would leave Metro stretched to the breaking point.

On a ride along with police, the I-Team saw firsthand what officers deal with on the streets. Metro Sgt. Dan Newberry responds to a call with a very distraught man.

"I just got (expletive) robbed here about a half-hour ago, I've been calling you guys, the man tells the officer.

Metro officers hear similar complaints throughout their shifts as they run from one call to the next. On another call, a homeless man gets a disruptive inside a fast food restaurant.

"I'm sorry it took so long to get out here. It's that kind of day. We are short on manpower and there are a lot of calls holding," Sgt. Newberry tells the caller.

Another call involves a professional-grade burglary of a home.

"It's not every day you have somebody with a gun safe with several hundred thousand dollars in it," said Sgt. Newberry.

He works the swing shift in the Enterprise command, Metro's biggest and busiest. There's no such thing as a slow moment.

"Currently we have 16 calls that are holding with the longest call that's been holding, holding since 11:45 in the morning. We are now sitting here at 3:30."

Newberry and his crew no longer do much pro-active police work. There's no time for it.

"Now, we find police officers, as soon as they log on, they are dispatched on calls, they may not be out of the parking lot."

On the front lines, there is no debate about whether Metro needs more cops. On a good night, they are stretched thin, and when there are special events, First Fridays for example, officers are pulled out of neighborhoods to cover the crowds.

"Any night has the potential to go from just okay to absolute chaos. There could be a shooting, a fatal accident, anything that could tie up multiple units for a long period of time," Sgt. Newberry said.

"Look at our response times. They're up over a minute compared to what they were. And a minute when you need a cop is huge," sheriff Doug Gillespie said.

He knows there is a direct link between the number of officers and the rate of crime. When Metro achieved two cops per 1,000 residents in his first term, crime went down. Now, after absorbing more than $60 million in budget cuts, it is creeping back up. And people seem more willing to challenge police authority.

"Go to Las Vegas Boulevard or Fremont Street, see the volume of people , the things taking place around those corridors. We're being asked to police with less people. Then take a look at your own neighborhoods, the population in this valley hasn't decreased. Our calls for service haven't gone down, but our staffing levels have," Sheriff Gillespie said.

Former Sheriff Bill Young had a budget of $560 million, not counting the jail. The current budget is in the neighborhood of $489 million. Young thinks it is ridiculous that Metro has to solicit political leaders for enough money to keep the community safe.

"Politicians are politicians. They are most concerned about their own political skin. They will stand up for Metro at a moments notice when it somehow leads to them," Young said.

He thinks some of the reluctance to fund Metro is because the department is funded by both but owned by neither. Young says the challenges today are greater than when he was sheriff, especially when it comes to protecting the economic engine.

"We sell a product that nobody needs. We want tourists to have a good time. The least little blip in safety or the perception thereof causes people to drive to the closest tribal gaming facility in their state. We have to be the safest tourist destination in America. End of story."

A sales tax increase of .15 percent would cost the average resident about 6 cents per day, which the sheriff says is a small price to pay to have enough police officers so that an officer responds when called.

Commissioner Susan Brager and others are saying the Metro reserve fund should be tapped instead of increasing the sales tax. The sheriff says that amounts to kicking the can down the road because those funds are already committed, and if they get spent now, it will open up a second deficit in a few years, worse than the current one.

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