Police union: ‘We use’ politicians

The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department can’t add officer positions without a tax increase, partly because of a plunge in property tax revenue, but mostly because its force is compensated so generously. If police pay were more in line with national averages, hundreds more officers would be on the streets patrolling neighborhoods, stomping out the valley’s dangerous driving culture and keeping the Strip even safer.

Last year, when state lawmakers and the Clark County Commission were debating whether to authorize a sales tax increase to boost the department’s operating budget, police and their union played aggressive defense when legitimate questions were asked about their compensation. The Nevada Policy Research Institute posted police salaries and benefits to TransparentNevada.com, which allowed the public to see how many officers were taking home six figures, and how many topped $200,000 in total compensation.

It’s been obvious for years that all local governments, not just Metro, want tax increases not because they’re cash poor, but because the state’s collective bargaining laws ensure they have no control over their personnel costs. The bill just keeps going higher and higher. But the Las Vegas Police Protective Association told anyone who’d listen that member salaries were not the problem.

“I don’t know how you can say they’re inflated over the past years. They were not. And do I believe they were ever inflated? No. I do not,” Chris Collins, executive director of the LVPPA, said last year in a telephone interview with Las Vegas’ KTNV-TV, Channel 13.

But now it can be said with certainty that Las Vegas police have one of the best compensation packages in America. Don’t take my word for it. Take the LVPPA’s.

In the just-released September/October issue of Vegas Beat, the union’s magazine (lvppa.com/vegas-beat/), Assistant Executive Director Mark Chaparian touts high officer pay and the union’s role in growing police pay and benefits.

“The LVPPA has worked tirelessly decade after decade to deliver lucrative contracts to its members, which has made Metro one of the best-paid police departments in the country,” Chaparian wrote. “I have spent hundreds of hours studying and researching police contracts across the nation, and Metro stands far above the majority.”

Regarding the union’s medical benefits, Chaparian writes: “Through our collective bargaining process, we take the City of Las Vegas, Clark County and mighty Metro to task in order to secure money that can be spent on health care for you and your family. … This isn’t Disneyland, so believe me when I tell you that their idea of health care is nothing like your idea of health care, or anything that remotely resembles what our membership would consider acceptable.”

Your health care benefits are eroding and getting more expensive, thanks to Obamacare. So how, exactly, is the union so successful in preserving member benefits? Chaparian goes on to explain the political process to members.

“Painstaking efforts are taken to filter, endorse, lobby, and support or oppose political candidates who impact our members on and off the job. The LVPPA is a significant contender in local and state politics. Politicians desperately seek our endorsement and support, and, in turn, we use them to achieve our goals.”

We use them. That’s instructive for voters, desperate candidates and taxpayers alike.

Now, I’m often branded as anti-cop and anti-public employee, but that’s not true. I think it’s especially important to pay police a good salary, but not because of the risks they face on the job — no one forces anyone to become a police officer. No, paying police poorly is an invitation for corruption. They have awesome powers: the ability to take away your liberty, to take your stuff, to suspend your rights, to use force against you. If you pay police and corrections officers dirt, they’re susceptible to bribes from enterprising crooks.

But high police pay, and high public employee pay, comes at a cost. You can’t have as many of them. And compensating them at levels that far outstrip those of taxpayers isn’t sustainable.

The sales tax increase is on the shelf for now, but it will be back at some point. The state law that gives the County Commission the ability to enact a sales tax increase of up to 0.15 percentage points doesn’t expire until 2016. At some point, commissioners will bring forward a new tax plan to increase police funding across the county.

Commissioners should remember Chaparian’s words when they vote on it.

Hashtags &Headlines

After a summer hiatus, the Review-Journal’s Hashtags &Headlines policy luncheon series resumes Monday with a panel discussion on statewide ballot Question 1. If approved by voters this fall, the constitutional amendment would create an intermediate appellate court to provide the Nevada Supreme Court with some relief from its crushing caseload.

Review-Journal political columnist Steve Sebelius will moderate the discussion with Supreme Court Justice James Hardesty, retired Nevada Supreme Court Justice Bill Maupin, Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and UNLV Boyd School of Law Dean Daniel Hamilton.

If approved, how would the appellate court function? How much would it cost? And would it really help speed the appeals of District Court cases?

The luncheon runs from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Texas Station’s Houston Ballroom. Tickets cost $40 at the door. Hope to see you there.

Glenn Cook (gcook@reviewjournal.com) is the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s senior editorial writer. Follow him on Twitter: @Glenn_CookNV. Listen to him Mondays at 4 p.m. on “Live and Local with Kevin Wall” on KXNT News Radio, 100.5 FM, 840 AM.

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