Wednesday, March 18, 2009 | 5:38 p.m.
A police union spokesman told Clark County Commissioners Tuesday that the majority of Metro Police officers support opening a new county jail in December as planned and if the opening is delayed, the union will blame the commissioners for jeopardizing public safety.
Commissioners are weighing the possibility of delaying opening a 1,085-bed, low-level-offender facility for a year to save an estimated $13 million.
"It will be the PPA's positions that if that jail does not open, that this commission will hurt public safety," said Detective Chris Collins, president of the Las Vegas Police Protective Association.
Sheriff Doug Gillespie also opposes the delay, saying the overcrowded Clark County Detention Center needs relief or some inmates may end up back on the streets.
Commissioners did not take action today but will review their options at a budget workshop at the end of the month.
Commissioner Tom Collins eagerly accepted the facility in his district but was angry that it took so long to build.
"The facility should have been built several years ago," he said. "It should be automatic that we're going to open the jail and lock up people that violate our legalized citizens. The longer we wait, the more it costs."
After record overcrowding at the county jail in 2005 and 2006, Metro urged the county to sign a build-lease agreement with Molasky Group in 2007 for a facility for non-violent inmates. It is located on 17 acres near Nellis Air Force Base, at 4900 N. Sloan Lane near Las Vegas Boulevard.
Under the 30-year contract, the county will pay Molasky $11.3 million a year in rent, a cost that will increase 6 percent every two years for a total of $528 million. The county has the option to buy the facility at market price after 10 years.
The original plan was to open the facility in December with 500 beds and about 135 corrections officers and civilian support staff.
By delaying the opening a year, Metro would forgo enrolling about 40 officers in a May corrections officer academy along with 46 civilian positions. It would use the 90 corrections officers already hired to offset overtime hours, saving $13.1 million.
Another option is opening in December with 350 beds, which would save the county $7.5 million.
The county will have to pay the lease whether or not it opens the facility. Steve Morris, the detention operations manager, said it would take four to six months to train the staff before the facility can be used.
The police union, which represents Metro's 2,500 officers, renegotiated its contract recently and agreed to give up a cost of living increase for one year, which saved the county about $10 million to $12 million, Collins said.
"We think that money should be put toward opening this facility," he said. The detention center has been overcrowded ever since it opened in 1984, Assistant Sheriff Ted Moody said. It was designed to hold 2,984 inmates and averaged 3,031 a day in January.
The county jail held 3,416 inmates on average per day in 2008 and 3,582 per day in 2007, a decline of 4.6 percent from year to year.
But the downward trend in inmate population is unlikely to continue as unemployment and economic recessions tend to cause an upswing in crimes, Moody said.
"Even with the so-called reduced occupancy rate that we're experiencing today, we have almost 3,100 inmates under the roof with nearly 100 of those already on cots," he said. "So the number 4.6 percent doesn't in any way shape or form mean that the facility is operating at or under capacity. What it means really is that we're a little less overcrowded."