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September 1, 2014

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Sheriff laments current officer levels, adamant that Metro is underfunded

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Steve Marcus

Sheriff Doug Gillespie speaks on the Metro Police budget during a county commission meeting at the Clark County Government Center Tuesday, April 16, 2013.

Sheriff Doug Gillespie

Clark County Sheriff Douglas Gillespie speaks during an editorial board meeting with Las Vegas Sun staff inside his office in Las Vegas on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2012. Launch slideshow »

Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie insists his decision to not seek a third term was the result of careful contemplation — not one thing in particular.

When he steps down as Las Vegas’ top cop in January 2015, he will have been with Metro Police for 34 years.

Ask him what he plans to do next and he’ll give you a one-word answer: Retire. He doesn’t have any grand plans or job offers waiting.

The Sun’s editorial board sat down with Gillespie on Monday to get his take on these next 15 months in office and the challenges facing his department. Here’s a sampling of that meeting:

Last week, Clark County commissioners voted against the sales tax increase to pay for additional officers and help close Metro’s $30 million budget gap next year. Were you surprised?

Not really. Commissioner (Susan) Brager and Commissioner (Tom) Collins made it pretty clear to me that they had their points of view … and I didn’t see either side really willing to give.

Does the negative vote mean you’ll have to change your approach as you continue seeking that sales tax increase?

I really am not going to change my approach. I’m saying this is what we need. I don’t see the city and county coming up with additional revenue. They’ve made it pretty clear they’re not going to do it.

Do you think any of the commissioners were putting their political futures ahead of law enforcement’s needs with their votes?

I think that’s speculation. I’m not a mind reader. I don’t have a crystal ball. But what I do know is this: When police officer ratios in this valley have been low, crime has been up. When we hired more police officers, crime went down. Police officer ratios are going down; crime is going up. I don’t look at a 12 percent crime increase in one year as a slight increase or a nudge or an uptick.

What’s the current ratio?

It’s 1.74 cops per 1,000 permanent residents. That’s 1996 levels when you go back and look historically. We all know policing has changed considerably over those years.

I think part of the conversation that has been missed when we’ve been talking about this tax and the defeat is that. I was before the city and the county in the spring. I said $502 million was an appropriate funding level for us at that time. They did not agree. They cut our budget to $489 million, and as it stands today, we don’t have funding for that $489 million — unless you dip into reserve accounts.

Why not dip into a reserve account?

When do you stop dipping into it? It’s not a reserve account. The account is there to pay for those 520-plus officers through the life of those 520 police officers. I think if you looked in other aspects of the government, they are going to have funds they say they can’t draw down on. Why do they think we can draw down into this fund? And what’s the guarantee if you draw down on it that money is going to be put back into it?

You’ve voiced your frustrations about being asked to continue making cuts upon cuts, especially to specialized units like the mounted police or K-9. Why are those so important?

With those assets, you can be much more effective with your resources. How many officers are required to do what a horse can do by itself with crowd management? How many officers does it take to search a large commercial building if you don’t have K-9 support?

During those early 1980s, our helicopter unit was grounded because we had no money to pay for the fuel, and I was working patrol. I know what it was like.

Rather than try to find little parts within a budget to make your case, why don’t we just fund this organization to the level it should be funded and allow the individual elected by the people of Clark County manage it?

Will the negative vote affect plans for a police academy next year?

I believe we will have one in February. Why do I believe that? We’re running vacancies right now on the $489 million budget. Whatever vacancy factor we have moving up to that point of time will dictate what size academy we have.

When you decided to save an officer’s job against the recommendation of the Use of Force Review Board, it resulted in a handful of resignations from the board. What’s the board’s current status?

We had a number of people apply to (those positions), and I believe we’re up to 22 members.

I never saw it stop functioning. It kept right on moving forward. There was no stopping to the process. I had five people leave, but 15 stayed.

A handful of sheriff candidates have emerged so far. What are your thoughts about the group?

No comment.

Do you expect to endorse anyone?

We’ll see.

Have you given much thought about what you’d like your legacy as sheriff to be?

I didn’t come here to create a legacy 33 years ago, and I’m not looking to create one before I leave at 34. One thing throughout my entire career that I’ve been satisfied with is what I’ve done to make this community and this department a better place.

In January 2015, when I walk away, I’ll be very surprised if I don’t tell you this: I like what I see in the mirror. Maybe a little grayer, maybe a bit older, but you know what? I’m pretty proud of what not only myself but what my organization has done in the 30-plus years I’ve been here.

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