LAS VEGAS -- An open letter to the men and women of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department is stirring up controversy about a failed tax proposal that would have paid to hire more police.
The so-called "More Cops Tax" was voted down three times. It would have paid for hundreds of new officers at Metro and other Clark County police agencies.
The Las Vegas Police Protective Association said there might be more to the tax hike's tumultuous demise than a simple vote.
LVPPA Executive Director Chris Collins said the state's largest police department hasn't been filling vacancies dating back several years. He says Metro had the money but the personnel was never hired.
"No doubt, the fact that funded positions weren't filled was a trigger in some of those people's minds that came down to be against it," Collins said. "For the men and women out there doing the job, there are fewer policemen on the road today than there were years ago. There's no denying that, the numbers show it."
According to Metro's budget numbers in 2008, there were 185 officer positions unfilled and by the end of fiscal year 2009, the number had grown to 244. When the economy continued to struggle, the number of vacant jobs grew to 260 by the end of 2013. This year, the number of unfilled positions is at 106.
"I don't believe had he hired those positions that were funded and filled them, I don't believe the county would have laid them off either," Collins said. "Do I believe it could have been? I certainly would like to believe that the sheriff or any of his staff would not leverage the officer's safety, the number of officers to try and gain this new tax, but there are people who believe that's true."
Sheriff Doug Gillespie said to fill the vacant positions, only to have his budget slashed from year to year, would have forced layoffs, an action Gillespie would not do. During the more cops tax debate, Gillespie had been asked by the county on Jan. 21 why the department kept huge numbers of jobs open?
"We made a conscious decision not to fill position so to recoup those savings to use as fund balance in the next fiscal year," Gillespie told the county.
Metro also released a statement regarding the LVPPA's notion that the Clark County Commission and other officials would be hard pressed to cut Metro's budget forcing layoffs.
"Yes some elected officials have publicly stated that they would not vote to lay off officers but the reality is, they have voted not to properly fund the department which has required us to eliminate positions."
The police union said, regardless of the reason for the vacancies and the manpower shortage, the issue has been shouldered by the rank and file officers working the streets and their safety is in jeopardy, as a result.
"They don't have the backup that they need, they don't have the manpower, is it dangerous for them, yeah, it's a dangerous job but it's more dangerous when you don't have all the help you need," Collins added.
Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins said the more cops tax debate is not over and it could come before the commission again for another vote.