LAS VEGAS (AP) - The top cop in Las Vegas is making another push to add police patrols on the Strip and downtown, amid a recent series of high-profile crimes in the city’s marquee tourist areas.
Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo is seeking funds to hire 67 patrol officers for the Strip and seven more for Fremont Street, Sgt. Chuck Callaway, the Las Vegas police’s intergovernmental affairs director, said Tuesday.
The new hires would bolster a department that currently has about 2,500 sworn officers. They could cost almost $12 million a year, a little under 2.5 percent of the department annual budget of about $500 million.
Callaway told The Associated Press the effort to add officers dates back 10 years - before deep budget cuts during the 2007 recession.
Clark County commissioners balked several times in recent years at proposals to hike the local sales tax to hire more officers before voting last September to increase the sales tax from 8.1 percent to 8.15 percent - enough to hire 133 more officers.
Commissioners complain that room taxes, not local taxpayers, should foot more of the bill for policing Las Vegas Boulevard and Fremont Street.
Callaway said the latest push for funding predates several headline-grabbing incidents in recent weeks.
- A car plowed in December into pedestrians on a Strip sidewalk, killing a tourist from Arizona and injuring at least 34 other people from at least six U.S. states, Mexico and Canada. The driver is accused of intentionally steering her car into the crowd.
- Two bystanders were grazed by police gunfire in January when a patrol officer shot at a man accused of pointing an unloaded gun at traffic and a crowd of tourists watching a water fountain show in front of the Bellagio.
- Two women were killed and a California man was wounded last Friday in a car-to-car shooting that police said stemmed from a scuffle in a casino parking garage. A Nevada ex-convict was arrested Saturday in the case.
- A similar vehicle-to-vehicle shooting last week on nearby Tropicana Avenue wounded two people, but not seriously. No arrests have been made in that case.
“Our attempt to get additional officers is not directly tied to those incidents,” Callaway said Tuesday. “What it does is allow us to be proactive in our police work. With an economy based on tourism, one incident could have a huge impact on the livelihood of our state.”
In a metropolitan area with 2 million residents and 40 million tourists a year, Callaway said Lombardo and police administrators want officers freed from responding to one urgent call after another in order to be able to spot problems before they develop.
The sheriff told the governor-appointed Southern Nevada Tourism and Infrastructure Committee in December that his department assigns about 30 patrol officers per shift to the 4-mile Strip, which he said draws about 300,000 tourists a day. Casinos also have armed private security officers.
Patrols are augmented during weekends and special events by Las Vegas police officers working overtime, with the tab paid by Strip resorts.
Most U.S. metro areas with about 2 million people average about two police officers per 1,000 residents, but Las Vegas averages 1.8 per 1,000. Callaway said. That doesn’t count tourists in the city’s 150,000 hotel rooms, he said.
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