Patrol area for park police to shrink

Clark County's park police soon will have much less ground to cover, thanks to an agreement that will divert more crime-fighting duties to Las Vegas police.

County commissioners gave the go-ahead Tuesday for a plan that would make police responsible for handling all calls at about 60 percent of the county's 1,200 acres of parkland, beginning in April.

The park police department will patrol the remaining 40 percent, which will be divided into four zones encompassing the county's busiest parks. Each zone will have an anchor such as Sunset Park and Cambridge campus.

County leaders say the collaboration will make the parks safer and eliminate the need to increase park police staffing.

"I think it was a recognition that we have to work better," said Don Burnette, the county's chief administrative officer.

Park teams will be deployed in each zone, allowing them to respond quicker to calls, Burnette said. The goal is to reduce response time from an average of 23 minutes to less than 10 minutes, he said.

Burnette gave kudos to Sheriff Doug Gillespie for taking on more park duties, even though his department is struggling with a tighter budget.

"In these tough economic times, everybody is doing more," said Metropolitan Police Department spokesman Bill Cassell.

Police already respond to assaults and other serious crimes in county parks, Cassell said. Under the plan, Las Vegas police will deal with routine disturbances in their assigned territory instead of routing these calls to park police. Police also will handle calls at all county parks after they close for the day, he said.

Park police will remain in charge of issuing picnic permits and checking locks on buildings, Cassell said .

Burnette said there now are 16 park police officers. He said there's been no talk of eliminating two additional park police positions that are now vacant or reducing the force now that the teams will oversee a smaller area.

A representative of the Park Police Officers Association didn't return calls seeking comment. Union officials have argued that the crew is grossly understaffed, staying at a maximum of 18 people since it was created in 1991 while the county's parks grew substantially.

Some members of a county advisory panel had suggested scrapping the park police to save money. The park police was budgeted $2.8 million this year.

Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, who has questioned the need for park police, said having the two agencies sharing duties seems effective.

"It may not be what I really envisioned, but I think it's in the best interest of the public," she said.