Sales tax to fund more police welcomed by Clark County residents

Unless I miss my guess, any vocal political opposition to the “More Cops” sales tax increase has just been cuffed and stuffed.

A countywide Magellan Research poll taken just this week shows overwhelming support for the Metropolitan Police Department to return to the 2009 Legislature for another quarter-cent from the sales tax to hire hundreds more uniformed officers for Metro and departments in North Las Vegas, Henderson, Mesquite and Boulder City.

Voters approved the two-tiered More Cops plan in 2004. The Legislature passed the first quarter-cent sales tax increase in 2005. The second quarter-cent is scheduled to go before lawmakers in 2009.

In tough economic times, questions are being asked whether hiring more cops is the best use of tax dollars. The Magellan poll would appear to provide a resounding answer to that question: 73.8 percent of voters in the 800-sample survey said yes. Metro charted a 77.4 percent favorable rating in the poll.

“I think it’s real consistent to the polling that was done back when Bill Young was sheriff and came up with this idea,” Sheriff Doug Gillespie said Friday. “With the economic climate, and me being approached by some folks saying maybe we should do something different with the quarter cent, the poll results send a very clear message to me that the public continues to support this additional quarter cent for more police.”

Although Gov. Jim Gibbons has often repeated his opposition to a tax increase, Gillespie said the chief executive expressed support for the additional police funding for Clark County.

“He told me he would not veto it,” Gillespie said.

The sheriff said the quarter cent increase would mean approximately 600 more Metro officers on the street, which would bring the department’s ratio up to about two cops per 1,000 residents. (The ratio currently is 1.8 per 1,000.)

Although Gillespie said he respects the role corrections officers play, the additional funding should be spent on the street, where the poll shows substantial support for increased policing in neighborhoods and around schools.

“It was very specific that it was for police officers,” Gillespie said. “It wasn’t an intent to augment the jails. It was for officers on the street.”

The poll also de-fuses potential questions about who should administer the funding: 62.1 percent favored giving the sheriff and local police chiefs the ability to determine how the money is spent compared to just 5.9 percent believing the Clark County Commission should do the job.

Is it possible voters are still stinging from the fact so many previous members of the commission now get their mail at a penitentiary near you?

This is what is known in some political circles as a pre-emptive strike against anyone on the commission who might be considering engaging the department about the best use of its funds.

Political consultant Kent Oram, a longtime supporter of law enforcement and adviser to sheriffs for 30 years, said the poll makes a powerful argument for increased funding and local law enforcement control.

“Doug wanted to know the public’s appetite,” Oram said of the sheriff. “We found out overwhelmingly, as you can see, that they want the Legislature to give them the money. Those are huge numbers.”

Magellan’s Marvin Longabaugh noted that support for increased police presence is strong with older Southern Nevadans — no surprise there — but actually increases in the 25-to-44 age group with more than 80 percent in favor of more cops on the beat.

The police remain popular with voters in good times and bad. Elected officials doing battle over the “More Cops” funding should be prepared to take their lumps.

ON THE BOULEVARD: Some of the hand-drawn placards at a recent rally of state workers prior to the Legislature’s brief special session, are sure to raise eyebrows. Among the more stinging offerings: “It’s 3 a.m. in the morning. Where’s your Governor? Text him;” “Nevadans want a divorce,” and “Texting is a luxury. 4% is a necessity.” … Gibbons’ association with Leslie Durant, who once appeared in Playboy, continues to make news in Northern Nevada. The Nevada Appeal recently photographed Gibbons and Durant in attendance at the Reno Rodeo. … Don’t forget the bone marrow registration drive for 10-year-old leukemia patient Brandon Rayner starting at 1 p.m. Tuesday at the Clark County Armory at 6400 Range Road.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday.

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