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April 1, 2015

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J. Patrick Coolican:

The Strip needs more police, but casinos shouldn’t foot the bill

J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican

After an ugly spate of homicides on the Las Vegas Strip last summer, major hotel companies now pay to have Metro Police conduct extra patrols of our most important commercial district.

From one vantage point this looks like a good deal for everyone: Those hotels bring all the people here, and the people need police protection, so why shouldn’t the hotels pay for it?

I’ll play contrarian (a stretch, I know): This a terrible idea. It creates the appearance of collusion between big corporations that own the Strip hotels and our police force.

What’s the problem with that? The Strip, after all, is our economic engine, and surely we need to protect the assets, employees and customers who make it all possible.

The problem is that it threatens Metro’s independence.

Independence from political and commercial influence “is absolutely fundamental to democratic policing,” said Eugene O’Donnell, a former New York City police officer, training officer and prosecutor and now an expert in policing at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Officer Jay Rivera, a Metro Police spokesman, said the public has nothing to fear, that officers are independent of the hotel companies, and that they are policing on the basis of the facts and the law only.

“As an officer, when you’re out there, the fact that a (casino) property paid for the overtime has no bearing. They’re going based on the merits of the case,” Rivera said.

The paychecks, he said, still say Metro.

He added: “As an officer, if you’re citing someone, you have to answer to a judge what you did, why you did it, the evidence you have, and there will be witnesses. There will be a defense attorney. You have to answer those questions. I don’t see how an officer says, ‘The reason I made an arrest or didn’t make an arrest was because (a hotel) paid for the shift.’”

Well, obviously an officer isn’t going to say that. But the unconscious mind is a powerful thing. My former colleague Liz Benston wrote a story last year about Bob Nersesian, an attorney in town who makes a very good living suing hotels when their security guards get a little overly rambunctious with an unwanted guest.

“Nersesian and other critics of casino security call it a culture of thuggery and intimidation by poorly trained security guards,” the story said. “Police are inclined to believe that a handcuffed patron has committed a crime rather than suspect the customer was improperly arrested, they say.”

“Improperly arrested” by hotel security? Yes, hotel security have the power of arrest — just as you and I do — if they witness a crime.

But you get the point: Hotel security will detain someone for one reason or another — perhaps justifiably, perhaps not — and police will show up and try to figure out what’s going on.

Whose side will Metro take when they know the hotel is indirectly paying them?

Rivera reiterated that Metro must comport with the law: “We can’t take people’s liberty away willy-nilly if the facts and circumstances don’t amount to probable cause.”

Still, I go back to appearances. Our civic fabric is already frayed by the widespread belief in the Las Vegas Valley that the fix is always in for the big boys.

What if we couldn’t afford the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, so the oil companies paid for patrols of the Persian Gulf? It would look unseemly, at best.

It’s common around the country for promoters to pay police for their special events. In fact, our unique arrangement, called “Safe Strip,” is run by the special events administrative arm of Metro, though an area command is also involved, Rivera said.

It’s also true that we often impose fees on industries to pay for agencies to regulate them, including the Securities and Exchange Commission, and, yes, the Nevada Gaming Control Board.

But the Strip pay-for-patrol arrangement, it seems to me, is in a totally different category.

O’Donnell said our arrangement is akin to what he’s seen when training police in Third World countries.

“You need to be extra careful in Las Vegas, where you have an industry with such a huge footprint, that police are separated from that industry,” he said.

He called our pay-for-patrol deal “formalized temptation.”

We already have a problem with the appearance of coziness between law enforcement and hotel companies. Our sheriff and district attorney have to run for re-election every four years, and often much of their campaign money comes from the Strip. The two previous sheriffs went to work for casino companies.

“Police are supposed to serve everyone equally. Police need to be willing to lock up a hotel manager or a head of security for falsely detaining someone,” O’Donnell said.

Our arrangement seems to have raised few eyebrows so far because we in Southern Nevada love government services, but only when someone else pays the tab.

As O’Donnell said, however, “One thing you learn as a cop is ‘Nothing for nothing.’ People do things in exchange for things.”

Oh, c’mon. I’m sure our casino companies’ only motive is to be upstanding corporate citizens.

It’s true we need extra police officers on the Strip. And all of us should pay for it.

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  1. Perhaps the city fathers and the strip casinos should look to the past for a solution to the policing (lack of) problem on the strip and by extension, downtown. Look back to San Francisco, 1849. Gold has been discovered in the Sierra foothills and the gold rush is on. San Francisco at that time was an open city. Gambling, drunkenness, and whoring were the main diversions for the populace.

    As a result, the SF Patrol Special Police were formed, two years before the founding of the regular police department to protect their private clients. ""Their goal is to prevent disturbances from becoming expensive and serious crimes, and to relieve pressure on the public police. ...are on police radio bandwidth, and are trained annually along side regular PD officers. "Patrol Special Police Officers respect and consider the distinct tenor and character of neighborhood life in beats where they work."

    They operate on the regular police radio frequencies and respond to police emergencies and will always come to the aid of police officers. They are often the first responders to police emergencies. For all intents and purposes they are police officers. But the important factor is that they are paid by their clients. The hourly rate for Patrol Specials is $50.00 per hour.

  2. Anyone aware of the tactic Metro uses called "saturation patrolling?" An intersection is deemed "dangerous" so Metro puts a bunch of bike and/or patrol cops there to try and slow down the crazies blowing through it. Does Metro then go door to door & charge the nearby businesses for the added expense? I think not. It's the essence of their very existence to protect us. Why is the Strip any different? Anyone doubt that Strip resorts generate & pay an enormous amount of taxes to the county, state & feds? If the trees in a forest, crops in a field and oil in the ground are valuable resources and vital to our existence, what do you think the resorts are to Clark County & NV? Just whipping boys for the loons on the left? Wise up!

  3. "Ugly spate of homicides on the Las Vegas Strip"
    "Our most important commercial district"
    "Hotels bring all the people here, and the people need police protection"
    "Shouldn't the hotels pay for it?"

    ANSWER: Yes....

  4. Thank you J. Patrick for bringing back your contrarian viewpoint, as I was getting very concerned that I was beginning to agree with you......whewww......THAT went out the door with this one. Police Officer, public servants, paid to protect the public from criminals - Casino, PRIVATE PROPERTY - private security, paid to protect the assets of the casino. The primary job of a casino is to manage risk. Casino security was established to catch the occasional cheaters, escort the belligerent drunk off the premises, and make sure no one steals from the casino.

    If the Casino's have determined that they need to supplement their security, why reinvent the wheel. Using Metro is a perfect solution - an existing command and control structure, adequate staffing and equipment and familiarity with the area and its people. The ideal situation would be if this new task can be handled within the existing manpower framework. A fund pool could be established from participating Casinos. That money would cover the cost of manpower and equipment. The police should be continuously communicating and working with with the casino operators, because without the visitors there would be no Vegas.

  5. There have been many cases where police have wrongfully taken the side of a casino when dealing with patrons. This is an ongoing problem that has the potential of becoming much worse by having police "on the casinos' payroll." Police protection is properly a taxpayer expense, not the expense of the businesses in any particular area. If you don't believe the extent of police and casino security misconduct and collusion, please read some of these cases:

  6. What is the ratio of incidents that involve Metro responding to hotel security staff calls to those that are outside the hotel on the Strip itself? Put another way, what is the ratio of incidents inside the hotel to public incidents?

    This is speculation on my part. If the majority of incidents being handled by the extra police are essentially public ones, meaning on the sidewalks or other non-gaming calls, then by all means the hotels can pay for this without appearing to be unseemly.

    It is only when Metro has to work closely with hotel staff that there might be a conflict of interest.

  7. I welcome the police presence on the strip - just their presence alone is reassuring in preserving the peace! I've lived here over 12 years now, and have had nothing but positive experiences with hotel security, private security and the police on the strip working together!

    But, then, I'm a law-abiding citizen that's just out to enjoy the strip and have some sober fun!

    I worked directly with LVMPD Special Events when we were organizing the Occupy Movement Protests - and LVMPD did an amazingly professional job in supporting our 1st Amendment Rights to protest and keeping the trouble-makers at bay! I've got nothing but KUDOS for LVMPD!

  8. I'm with B. Chap. It's in everyone's best interest to be safe. Everyone knows how strapped governments are these days, let the casinos pay. It's not like they actually pay much in taxes you know.

    There are 11 casinos in Pa. They pay more in taxes than the 260 casinos in Nevada.

  9. It is a fact that casinos hire off duty Metro officers to police their properties during special events. These officers are in uniform and are paid to police the property that has hired them. This is a non issue, as it has been going on forever, and will continue to. The reality is the strip is a hotbed of criminal activity on any given day/night. If a given hotel/casino wants extra police protection, then they should pay for it.

  10. Another option is to have all Security Officers in every hotel/casino become POST certified, and carry weapons. When I was working at the Fiesta in NLV, all the officers there carried weapons. The reason this is not the rule at properties on the strip and elsewhere is the huge liability insurance costs incurred by the properties that choose to arm their Security personnel. Once again, a bottom line financial issue for the properties, and not an issue of public safety.

  11. If the strip wants more police service, they should foot the bill. We have been to Vegas several times and never been aproached even when we ventured into the wrong areas.

  12. OMG I agree with the Cool man.

  13. To Provide Taxpayer Funded Additional Protection to The Casinos is just another form of Corporate Welfare. Local residents working at their low paying service jobs without benefits can no longer afford to subsidize Casinos. Once Nevada Determines a Fair Tax Rate for Mining And Casinos then we need to talk about monies for the School System First, before we think about further give aways to very very Rich Billionaire Owners.

  14. The police should pay for the extra policing, just not how they're doing it now. They need to pay more in taxes, so more police can be hired. But people in this state are scared of the "T" word, even though they use the benefits taxes provide every day... people want the government to do everything for them, they just don't want to pay for it.

    Yeah, I know what some conservatives are going to say... but even the most conservative people still expect the government to provide far more services than tax dollars can provide at current levels.

  15. The money can come from casinos just not directly to Metro.

  16. Let's just make everyone a cop!

  17. Or Mr Coolican can pony up and aid the casinos on the strip all on his own?