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Rebuild public trust

As city council members in Southern Nevada wring their hands over the prospect of finally fulfilling the voter mandate to make medical marijuana available to patients, and Sheriff Doug Gillespie prepares to once again ask the Clark County Commission to approve a tax hike to pay for more cops, perhaps all involved should accept the inevitable and focus on the resources wasted in the pursuit of pot, thereby freeing up more cops to pursue crime.

It’s an idea that’s likely to come up in the race to replace Gillespie, which is likely to be one of the most contentious of the year, pitting two of his top cops and one who left the fold against one another in what will essentially be a three-way race (though others are running). Ghosts of sheriffs past are likely to figure prominently, with Assistant Sheriff Joe Lombardo enjoying the support of his boss and former Sheriff Bill Young.

Gillespie seems to be a decent man who often appears surprised when he’s left holding the bag in the wake of police shenanigans. Some incidents have been clearly indicative of a culture that tolerates payback and wasteful spending: arresting of chalk drawing protestors outside headquarters, a rock star’s high-flying marriage proposal to his girlfriend courtesy of Clark County taxpayers? Then there’s the big stuff, such as the fatal shooting of Trevon Cole, a young man who sold a small amount of marijuana to an undercover cop. That incident cost the department a $1.7 million dollar settlement.

Gillespie can thank his lucky stars other Metro actions that could have ended tragically did not, like the late night SWAT raid at a Seven Hills home in 2009. The resident and her daughter hid in a closet and called police to report a break-in while her boyfriend fired shots out the front door at the supposed intruders. Emmanuel Dozier, who police suspected of being a cocaine dealer, wounded three SWAT officers before he says he realized police were breaking in his door. Metro’s arrest report noted no drugs found in the home, but Dozier got sent to prison for 10 years for shooting at police.

I was reminded of that incident when I learned of a recent drug search by Metro. But unlike the Dozier and Cole cases, where undercover cops reported buying drugs from the suspects, this incident, which could have easily turned deadly, appears to be lacking in one essential element – probable cause.

A Las Vegas man, who I shall not name, was home with his girlfriend a few weeks before Christmas when they heard a commotion at the door.

The homeowner grabbed his gun but thankfully had not yet fired when he heard the would-be intruders shout “POLICE.” The resident put away his gun before answering the door to find five plain-clothes cops at his door. They informed him they received a tip that he was growing marijuana. Despite the lack of a search warrant, the amused homeowner opened his home to the officers’ search, which turned up nothing.

How often does this happen? We may never know. But it’s the kind of intrusion that sends civil libertarians into orbit. And it should. Not that I have any enemies, but it’s disconcerting to know that someone I may possibly have angered at some point can call the cops and prompt a posse pounding at my door for no cause.

In this particular instance the young man who was paid the holiday visit by Metro Vice Squad happens to be a member of a prominent Las Vegas family. That means his folks, who are fit to be tied, have the power to make large campaign contributions and influence the giving of others. They’ve got a meeting scheduled with the sheriff on Jan. 21, coincidentally, the same day Gillespie makes his latest pitch for more money to the County Commission. With visions of taxpayer-funded settlements, chalk-drawing artist arrests and high-flying marriage proposals dancing in their heads, no telling what commissioners will end up doing to this iteration of More Cops.

Assistant Sheriff Lombardo has the most to lose politically should the commission once again reject Gillespie’s plea.

Another candidate, Ted Moody, who left the force last summer in protest, acknowledges Metro’s own actions have resulted in an erosion of public trust. In a news release Moody says he wants to “free-up funds and put more cops on the streets using the resources already on-hand.”

And maybe Metro could go light on evil weed. Seems to me a waste of resources to chase an “illegal” substance that is selling like hotcakes in another state.

Regardless of the outcome of Tuesday’s vote, that could still be one of Metro’s best options.

DANA GENTRY is executive producer of Ralston Reports on KSNV.