State requires more accountability from Southern Nevada police agencies

By Daniel Honchariw

For the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, its new More Cops money comes with higher transparency requirements.

That’s because when Clark County last week increased the countywide sales tax to hire more police officers, the county commission was implementing a new state law that requires a new level of oversight and reporting for Metro.

Under the state legislation — Assembly Bill 1 of the October special session, dubbed the Clark County Crime Prevention Act of 2016 — Metro’s governing five-member Fiscal Affairs Committee must submit quarterly reports to the state Department of Taxation on multiple matters.

The reports must spell out the total amount of the new More Cops tax dollars received and a “detailed description” of how that money was spent, including:

  • The total spending that quarter;
  • The total number of police officers hired;
  • The number of officers filling authorized positions;
  • Those officers’ demographic information;
  • A “detailed analysis” of how each Metro expenditure:
    • Conforms to all provisions of Assembly Bill 1, and
    • Does not replace or supplant funding or staffing levels existing before Oct 1, 2016.
  •  Finally, and most importantly, the new state law requires each law-enforcement agency to submit an analysis of how each expenditure “is being used to prevent crimes” — including an assessment “of the effectiveness of each expenditure in preventing crimes.”

Other police departments within Clark County — not merely Metro — must also submit these new reports. And the state Department of Taxation, should it choose to, is authorized to review and investigate those reports.

These new detailed and compulsory reporting requirements — significantly more demanding than those that governed administration of the 2005 More Cops tax legislation — implicitly signal that the department’s handling of those original More Cops tax revenues was officially found lacking.

Since 2005, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department has received over $650 million in funds earmarked for the stated purpose of hiring uniformed officers, but has produced far fewer net-hires than originally projected.

Also, while the More Cops tax was intended to merely supplement Metro’s general-fund spending on uniformed officers, the department — over subsequent years — moved millions of dollars in personnel costs out of its general fund and into its More Cops fund.

Thus the 2005 More Cops tax was administered to allow the department to significantly increase general-fund spending in non-personnel areas — notwithstanding repeated pledges by Metro, Clark County and the City of Las Vegas to not use the More Cops dollars to do that.

All this appears to have been quietly recognized by the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee, which provided the key legislative draft that eventually became AB1 of the special session.

Clearly another issue — how the fewer-than-expected hires have been geographically allocated throughout the valley — also attracted notice.

There has long been consensus that Southern Nevada — especially the Resort Corridor — needs more police. This consensus has only been amplified in recent months with the occurrence of an uptick in violent crime.

Therefore the new reporting mandates effectively require police departments to both report, and to justify, their allocation of uniformed-police resources.

County residents and everyone who appreciates greater transparency in government thus should applaud SNTIC on this front. Indeed, this model of transparency implementation should be applied across the board to Southern Nevada law-enforcement reporting.

It is often the nature of government bureaucracies, however, to resist full compliance with both the letter and spirit of transparency laws.

Going forward, therefore, we Southern Nevadans would be wise to closely monitor the future spending and personnel-allocation habits of all our law-enforcement agencies.

Public-safety challenges are growing — amid severely limited taxpayer resources. Thus optimally intelligent use of those resources is in the interest of all of us.

News You Can Use from Nevada Journal

Editors: Reprint permission, in whole or in part, is granted under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license.

Nevada Journal, a member of the Nevada Press Association (NPA) and Investigative Reporters & Editors (IRE), is an independent nonprofit reporting effort that adheres to the SPJ standards of professional journalism and specializes in in-depth and investigative journalism.

For the last 20 years, Nevada Journal has been published by the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a non-partisan public-policy think tank.