Metro pushes for even more ‘More Cops’ taxes

By Daniel Honchariw & Steven Miller

LAS VEGAS — To get Clark County voters to pass the 2004 “More Cops” sales-tax ballot measure, Metro’s then-sheriff and other local-government officials repeatedly and very publicly promised the funds would only be used to put more police on the street.

Nevada lawmakers early the next year made the same pledge and even wrote it into state law.

Ten years later, however, lawmakers and Metro both quietly, but explicitly, broke that promise.

The pledge was removed from state law and Metro’s Fiscal Affairs Committee was authorized to spend More Cops dollars, not for new hires but to meet other rising costs — such as record and rapidly escalating police retirement benefits.

Metro had told lawmakers in 2005 the More Cops tax dollars would allow it to hire 1,278 new, uniformed officers by 2015.

By the end of last year, however, only 566 in fact had been hired.

A Nevada Journal investigation into where the More Cops money actually went has found that, surprisingly, most of it for some 10 years was simply banked — not spent on new-officer hiring but sequestered, unused, in one Clark County fund: number 2320.

Rapidly increasing police costs — pension and otherwise — appear likely to have helped constrain police hiring. While outfitting a new uniformed officer in 2005 cost approximately $90,000, that cost has now risen to $115,000 — an increase of 28 percent.

Through 2014, however, Metro has never used more than 35 percent of its available funds in any given year towards the purpose stated in 2004 of hiring more uniformed police officers.

Why the money was not used to put more police into the community is not clear. According to one insider, the plan all along was to bank most of the More Cops fund.

This spring, Sheriff Joe Lombardo publicly signaled several times that — notwithstanding approximately $113 million banked — he wants new, additional sources of tax funding for Metro.

After those spring trial balloons appeared to go nowhere, Lombardo and Metro’s chief financial officer, Richard Hoggan, began meeting with the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee.

The SNTIC is an exceptionally powerful group — see, for example, this listing of its members.

In July, according to minutes, Lombardo told the committee that “Metro needs $12 million to fund 82 additional officers to the Strip and Fremont Street, nine surveillance camera specialists and 20 surveillance cameras.”

Again, in August and September, Lombardo and Hoggan discussed Metro’s desires with the group. Minutes of the committee suggest Metro’s More Cops bank balance was never discussed.

On Friday the committee appeared poised to endorse Metro’s plans for new, additional Southern Nevada taxes to be levied on Clark County taxpayers.

One recommendation is for the 2025 sunset date of the More Cops tax to be suspended, allowing the tax to continue indefinitely.

Another possible legislative recommendation now in draft form is legislative enactment of the “Clark County Crime Prevention Act of 2016,” which would raise the sales tax by an additional .01 percent for hiring more officers primarily for “the resort corridor.”

A draft of the legislation slated to be discussed at SNTIC’s scheduled Thursday meeting states:

Based on these findings, the SNTIC recommends that the Nevada State Legislature authorize the increase of the sales tax rate in Clark County by 0.1 percent, with the first portion of incremental revenue distributed to the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and dedicated to increasing police resources within the resort corridor in proportion to the share of countywide sales tax revenue generated within the resort corridor. The remaining incremental revenue shall be distributed to local police agencies based on population.

In all discussions of its needs for new revenue, Metro cites ostensible national ratios between uniformed police and the population of its jurisdiction — saying, for example, that the national average is 2.2 cops per 1,000 citizens, while Metro has only 1.7 uniformed cops per resident.

If Metro’s large civilian staff, however, is counted into the ratio, the ratio is 2.5 per thousand or even larger.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department has one of the largest civilian staffs in the country, in proportion to its sworn officers.

In 2013, Metro had 82 civilian employees for every 100 uniformed officers, the second highest ratio in the nation, exceeded only by Jacksonville, Fla.

However, the ratio-to-population method for determining staffing is not encouraged by police professionals — such as the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

As an International County/City Management Association analysis done for city and county managers noted, the Chiefs association recommends against the ratio approach.

Titled “How many officers do you really need?” and written by James McCabe, Ph.D., the paper notes that many communities rely on simple ratios to make staffing decisions, because the approach is “easy … to comprehend and apply.”

Nevertheless, it concludes, “this model is equally inefficient and unreliable.”

A 2012 assessment of staffing methodologies published by the Community Oriented Policy Services of the U.S. Dept. of Justice agrees:

The disadvantage of this method is that it … [fails to address] how officers spend their time, the quality of their efforts, or community conditions, needs, and expectations. Similarly, the per capita approach cannot guide agencies on how to deploy their officers.

The COPS paper cited 10 independent studies to back up its assertion that “Agencies using the per capita method may risk a biased determination of their policing needs.”

Continued the paper:

Per capita ratios do not account for the intensity of workload by jurisdiction. Crime levels and types can vary substantially among communities of similar population sizes. Per capita ratios also do not account for changes in population characteristics (such as seasonal fluctuations in tourist communities), or long-term trajectories of population growth and shrinkage.

The per capita method does not account for variations in policing style, service delivery, or response to crime (i.e., how police officers spend their time). Some police departments may choose to use non-sworn staff to perform some service functions. Others may choose a more community-oriented (with various forms of implementation) or traditional style of service delivery. Variations in how agencies choose to patrol their jurisdictions also have implications for staffing needs that are not reflected in per capita ratios. [Emphasis added.]

Daniel Honchariw, MPA, is a public policy analyst with the Nevada Policy Research Institute. Steven Miller is managing editor of Nevada Journal and senior vice president of NPRI.

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