Sheriff and Republican gubernatorial candidate Joe Lombardo cited “contractual wage increases from settled collective bargaining agreements” as the primary reason for the spike. (Photo: Ronda Churchill)
The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department is requesting more than $715 million for its operating budget next year — an 8.17% increase over its current budget.
In a letter accompanying the budget request, Sheriff Joe Lombardo acknowledged that the request is “considerably larger than recent years.” The outgoing sheriff, who is now running for governor as a Republican, pointed to “contractual wage increases from settled collective bargaining agreements” as the primary reason for the spike.
Metro’s budget has increased anywhere between 0.96% to 5.56% annually since fiscal year 2014, according to past budget reports.
The proposed budget includes no new funding for additional police officers, with Lombardo’s letter stating Metro expects it will take the entirety of the upcoming fiscal year to fill its existing vacancies. The budget does include 46 civil positions, which the letter says will aid in “partially restoring our civilian positions to pre-pandemic levels.”
Lombardo and Metro Chief Financial Officer Rich Hoggan on Monday presented the final budget request to the department’s Fiscal Affairs Committee — a five-member oversight board composed of two Clark County commissioners, two Las Vegas City Council members and a gaming executive (who fills a seat designed for a member of the general public).
The committee approved the request, which will be sent to the Clark County Commission and Las Vegas City Council for inclusion within their overall budgets. Those budgets must be passed by June 1.
The lion’s share — $451 million, or 63% — of the proposed $715 million Metro operating budget will come from Clark County and the City of Las Vegas. Approximately $188 million, or 27%, will come from Metro’s portion of local property taxes and $24 million will come from the department’s contract with the airport.
Before voting to approve the budget, Clark County Commissioner Michael Naft raised concerns about Metro’s current staffing levels. Specifically, he questioned why Metro had fallen below the ratio of two officers per 1,000 citizens — a benchmark set with the passage of the Clark County sales tax initiative known as the ‘More Cops Fund,’ which was spearheaded by Lombardo in 2016 during his first term as sheriff.
“We’re not meeting that obligation,” said Naft.
According to a previous report submitted to the Fiscal Affairs Committee, Metro has been below its authorized officer-to-citizen ratio for the entirety of the current fiscal year and doesn’t project getting back to its authorized ratio until June 2023.
Lombardo and Hoggan emphasized Metro’s ongoing recruitment efforts, which include looking for candidates both locally and out-of-state and offering transfer opportunities for those working in other law enforcement positions. The Fiscal Affairs Committee on Monday also approved reclassifying police dispatch positions under a “critical need” provision, which will allow retired public employees to be hired without having their retirement benefits affected.
“We have a robust footprint,” said Lombardo of recruitment, “but it will take time.”
The sheriff noted that participation in their recruitment events is down 40%.
“On average we shoot for about 1 out of 100 applicants who actually end up in the academy,” he said. “When you have a reduction of 40%, you have trouble.”
Lombardo said the department is handling its officer shortages by prioritizing the policing side over its corrections side and not transferring officers from generalized positions to specialized ones.
When Naft asked when Metro would be back on track in terms of staffing, Lombardo responded that the answer was “incumbent upon the community.” He spoke of a shift in attitudes about law enforcement.
Las Vegas City Councilman Stavros Anthony, a retired Metro officer still active on a national law enforcement board, said police departments across the country are dealing with recruitment and retention issues. As for the reason why, he pointed to “the summer of rioting” and “the police (being) portrayed as the bad guy” — referring to the series of protests and civil unrest that occurred after the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
“It’s harder and harder to get people into the law enforcement profession,” added Anthony, who is running for lieutenant governor as a Republican. “We have to turn that around.”
Lombardo said Metro hasn’t seen an increase in separations due to shifting public attitudes regarding law enforcement: “What we have seen is less people standing in line to be police officers. That will have a detrimental effect.”
The increased budget proposal and focus on Metro staffing comes amid broader conversations about public safety. In 2021, Clark County saw a 49% increase in murders and an 11% increase in property crime, according to is most recent annual report.
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