Police headquarters

Sheriff Doug Gillespie says coordinating and supervising the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department — with divisions and rented offices scattered in 50 locations across the valley — was already inefficient, time-consuming and expensive when gasoline was a $1 a gallon.

At $4 a gallon, the cost of trying to coordinate meetings of different divisions — getting the gangs unit in touch with the efforts of the car-theft division, for example — is out of control.

The sheriff says Metro needs a central headquarters. He’s right.

Now, there are some things Metro does that the politicians shouldn’t have the department doing. The list of job categories in which applicants are now required to submit to fingerprinting and background checks, for instance, is absurd. A safeguard which was supposed to guarantee that casino dealers didn’t have felony records in other jurisdictions has now expanded us to “protect” us from cooks, maids, and fence installers with checkered pasts.

But thinning the occasional overgrown bureaucratic thicket won’t change the fact that Metro is now a large urban department with physical quarters more appropriate to some tribal reservation police force.

Monday, Sheriff Gillespie and his facilities planners came forth with a proposal to lease a “campus” of three buildings of four and five stories, which would be built to suit the department’s needs on the vacant 14.5-acre parcel at the northwest corner of Alta Drive and Martin Luther King Boulevard — just across Interstate 15 to the west of the Clark County Government Center and World Market Center furniture towers.

It’s a pretty good plan, although — as Sheriff Gillespie acknowledges — the devil is in the details.

Consolidating Metro’s operations should allow the department to save an annual $5.5 million currently being spent to lease its multiple, outlying administrative offices. (No actual police substations would close under the plan.)

Savings in gasoline and drive-around time could rival that.

But the details of a hoped-for 30-year lease on the Alta Drive site are still under negotiation. While the sheriff won’t yet cite specific numbers, it appears obvious the lease for the new “campus” would considerably exceed that $5.5 million sum.

The proposed site is not completely without problems. Adding 1,400 employees at Alta and Martin Luther King would increase congestion at all the major intersections within a half mile of the site.

But the soon-to-open U.S. 95 eastbound exit and westbound onramp at a widened Martin Luther King should help. Besides, a central location makes good sense for Metro, and access problems would be worse east of Main Street.

The sheriff’s planners figure they need 340,000 square feet to meet their needs in 2011, allowing for continued 7 percent annual growth. The headquarters proposed at Alta and Martin Luther King would provide 375,000 square feet, plus adequate parking, and includes an option to eventually expand onto an adjoining parcel to the north — as well as an option for the city or county to buy the parcel in future.

Most importantly, the land is available now, without having to use eminent domain and the bulldozer to evict any taxpayers.

The plan proposed by the sheriff Monday is a sensible one, showing some careful thought. Some effort even appears to have gone into making the facility reasonably attractive — no towering and oppressive black skyscraper out of Anton Furst’s dark 1989 vision of Gotham City.

The concept is well worth pursuing. But the County Commission and City Council should not be averse to getting out the magnifying glass and making sure the final draft of this deal makes sense, financially.

The devil is in the details.

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