Las Vegas' marshals, as the city's firefighters did before them, have taken the debate over budget cuts directly to the public in an effort to pressure officials not to cut public safety positions to meet an expected budget shortfall.
The Las Vegas Police Protective Association, which represents the 65 marshals, launched a Web site Wednesday and sent members to various locations around the city to gather signatures of support.
"If we are not committed to making our public facilities safe from violence and crime, what does that say about our commitment to the safety of our tourists and residents?" PPA Executive Director Chris Collins said in a written statement. "The people of Las Vegas need to know what is at stake."
Coleen Rauh, a deputy city marshal and spokeswoman for the association, said the presence of marshals at parks and other facilities deters crime. Fewer marshals would mean less deterrence and longer response times, she said. Response times now average less than five minutes, according to the union.
The marshals, who are armed and trained police officers, are separate from the Metropolitan Police Department force, which serves the city and unincorporated areas of Clark County.
The marshals patrol and answer calls at city properties, including parks, recreation and community centers, city buildings and Municipal Court, and serve warrants. They also provide security at City Council events and meetings.
Deputy city marshals and municipal court marshals make annual salaries of between $51,600 and $71,192.
Las Vegas is facing a $69 million budget shortfall in the 2011 fiscal year, which starts July 1. To help close the gap, city leaders have asked all employees to take 8 percent pay cuts in each of the next two budget years.
Most of the city's workers are represented by one of four unions, and the members have to agree to the cuts before they can be implemented.
Without the cuts, layoffs will be the only option, City Manager Betsy Fretwell has stated.
In his statement, Collins said he had seen a proposal that would cut 20 positions from the marshals' ranks.
"There is nobody to pick up the slack," if those are cut, he said. "All other law enforcement agencies already are overburdened and may be facing cutbacks of their own."
Such predictions are premature, according to a statement released by city spokesman Jace Radke.
"There is a lot of speculation as to services that could be cut ... but at this time nothing has been decided," the statement read.
Fretwell is scheduled to make recommendations to the City Council on March 10.
The marshals responded to 13,911 calls in 2008 and 13,689 calls in 2009. The unit saw an increase in the number of crimes investigated in those years, with 4,291 investigations in 2008 and 6,195 in 2009. The crimes included vandalism, drug cases, auto theft, weapons charges, assaults and sexual offenses.
Last month, the Las Vegas firefighters union mounted a similar public relations campaign that urged people to attend town hall meetings sponsored by the city. The meetings were scheduled to get feedback from residents on what services are most important.
Because of statutory deadlines, the city will be approving a tentative budget in mid-April, hence the March recommendations to the council.
Don King, who heads the largest of the four unions, the Las Vegas City Employees Association, said "yes and no" when asked if that deadline put pressure on him and his members.
"All they need to know for sure is whether we would be able to offer concessions at that point," he said.
"We're still talking. We haven't come to an agreement. That's all I can tell you at this point."
on the web
Police Protective Association
Las Vegas Firefighters Union
Las Vegas town hall meetings
Click on the "Your City Your Way" link
Contact reporter Alan Choate at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-229-6435.