Our friends at Metropolitan Police Department and many of their fine colleagues in uniform throughout Southern Nevada don’t make it easy for us.
Along with maintaining an astonishingly high rate of discharging their weapons into the bodies of whoever happens to be in the vicinity when something bad is going down, Metro officers, their union and the departmental brass seem completely, achingly oblivious to the fact that they live in a grown-up urban area.
The examples of police mistakes are glaringly, painfully easy to find. Somehow Metro, aided by the department’s usual ally, District Attorney Steven Wolfson, managed to elevate the undoubtedly irritating but ultimately harmless chalking of anti-cop slogans onto sidewalks into High Crimes deserving Hard Time. So they rounded up some of the usual suspect sloganeers, thereby giving the aforementioned anti-cop rebels more media attention than they could ever have hoped for, while the DA and Metro darkly referenced the fact that the chalky conspirators were - gasp! - grownups.
They charged that scratching chalk on the sidewalk was akin to spraypainting commie graffiti over Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. No, it’s not.
Two quick points: There’s no age cut-off for the First Amendment, and sidewalk chalk disappears with the first sprinkle of rain or whisk of a broom. So pretending the hippie-chalk-people are threats to motherhood, apple pie and the Republic might have been a wee bit overstated.
Fortunately, after humiliating press coverage, Metro and Wolfson backed off the conspiracy-to-chalk charges. But that was far from the only misstep. One of the ongoing embarrassments is the constant shifting rationales for refusing cameras in cruisers or on the Metro uniforms.
In other jurisdictions, the impact of cameras has been extremely positive. Officers have been more careful with the use of force (golly, maybe that would be a good thing here in Las Vegas?). More careful and more professional practices in the field mean fewer boneheaded and too often lethal mistakes. Fewer mistakes mean fewer lawsuits, which means more money for officers and equipment.
And don’t get us started on Sheriff Doug Gillespie’s decision to overrule an advisory board and keep an officer on the force who clearly erred in shooting an unarmed teenager. If we are going to reduce the number of officer-involved-shootings, we have to hold officers - and their commanders - accountable for their errors.
So there are reasons for the community’s dim view of Metro. And make no mistake, the Clark County Commission’s refusal this month to approve a .15-percentage point sales increase (or even a .075 increase) was the community sending a strong message to Metro: We don’t want to reward bad behavior.
Unfortunately, punishing Metro by denying the department the funds it needs to operate is a mistake. After all of the boneheaded and sometimes downright lethal mistakes that Metro has made, a couple of points need to be noted. In 2010, Las Vegas had 19 officers per 10,000 people. North Las Vegas had 13. That is considerably less than the national urban average of 25.
And yes, we understand that there is a correlation between crime rates and the number of strategically deployed officers. More police mean less crime. That’s especially important for a community that depends on visitors to support our industrial base.
Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins is proposing a sales tax increase that would incrementally phase in the 0.15-percentage point sales tax increase by July 1. Under his plan, part of that increase would start in early 2014 and the remainder of the tax increase would start by July 2014.
That’s something we can agree with - it means about 6 cents a day, on average, for Clark County residents. But we don’t support the sales tax increase to reward you, Metro police, but because we understand that your work is vitally important. If you are going to win over support for the plan, it will require eliminating mistakes that have eroded your relationship with the community in which you serve.