"We can no longer guarantee your safety."
It was a statement that angered residents of North Las Vegas last year when the city's police union put it up on billboards across the city.
The union — refusing to offer contract concessions adequate to balance the city's budget — was pressing the North Las Vegas City Council to raise property-tax rates to fund its members' salaries.
A month later, a Nevada Journal investigation into city records would reveal that nearly three out of four union members reside outside North Las Vegas city limits. In short, union members were demanding higher taxes on city residents to fund police paychecks, knowing that most union members would never have to pay the higher tax.
A key tactic in that fight was a threat of lawlessness, which many residents saw as an invitation for crime delivered by the police force itself.
And now a similar tactic is emerging from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.
Metro brass are lobbying the Nevada Legislature to authorize a second quarter-cent sales-tax hike in Clark County that would be dedicated to Metro coffers. In 2005, lawmakers authorized an initial quarter-cent "more cops" tax in Clark County to finance the hiring of additional police officers.
Just months after the 2005 tax hike was approved, Metro police officers struck a new union contract with the county wherein they secured a 21.8 percent across-the-board pay hike over four years. Recent audits have reported that Metro has mostly done a good job of sequestering the funds received through the "more cops" tax for use only on new hires — in a manner consistent with legislative intent. However, if not for the pay raise and other perks won by Metro's union, money to hire additional officers would already have been available. Despite the funds sequestered, the tax effectively financed a department-wide pay raise.
Now, Metro brass have dropped even the pretense that the second quarter-cent tax hike would be used to hire additional officers. They're asking for this new tax to go into the department's general fund, where it will help finance pay and benefits for current officers. Or, as Metro CFO Karen Keller tells it, "We need a combination of an additional quarter cent as well as the flexibility in how we can spend those funds."
Central to the department's newest tax-hike campaign is a video created by top Metro brass (at public expense) that's clearly designed to scare the public about what might happen if Metro doesn't get the tax it wants.
Even though the video says, "These financial facts are real. They are not scare tactics meant to alarm the public," it's clear that the video is, in fact, meant to scare the public. It features senior officers saying, "Will it be less safe [without the tax hike]? … The truth is … probably." Sheriff Doug Gillespie is also featured saying, "Should the community be concerned? Yes, they should be concerned."
The video claims that Metro faces a $45 million shortfall in its 2013 budget, with $457 million in revenues versus $502 million in expenses. It provides no context, however, for that purported shortfall. It does not mention, for instance, that 1,998 Metro employees took home more than $125,000 in pay and benefits in 2011 or that 852 of those employees topped $150,000 in compensation. That's according to official payroll records received by NPRI and available at TransparentNevada.com.
Not only do Metro's budgeted expenses include high labor costs buttressed by the first "more cops" tax, union officials negotiated some extraordinary perks for themselves on the public dime. Metro pays full-time salary and benefits to seven union executives to perform union work out of the union's two-story Summerlin office.
Even though the union is a private organization, Metro foots the bill for its personnel costs using public resources. Union officials even receive shift differential and dangerous duty pay, though they spend no time fighting crime. Those premium pay categories boost their pay by up to 12 percent.
Metro officials also neglect to mention how the Department's repeated civil rights violations and other offenses have added to its expenses in recent years. Since 2008 at least $6.5 million in payouts have been made to settle more than 150 individual cases. Indeed, given Metro's track record, it's a genuine question how much it really makes citizens "safer."
Years ago in Southern Nevada, it was a different "outfit" implying that citizens' safety might be at risk unless they bought "protection."
Nevadans should expect more from a legitimate police force.
True public safety shouldn't be sacrificed just to enrich government-employee unions.
Geoffrey Lawrence is deputy policy director at the Nevada Policy Research Institute. For more visit http://npri.org.