By Gary Schofield, Deputy Chief, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, Nevada
ince 2008, the United States has witnessed an economic downturn that has had a marked impact on the lives of the citizens across the country, and especially in the Las Vegas, Nevada, community. The southern Nevada region has been severely impacted by this crisis, and by December 2008, the region had the third highest rate of foreclosures in the nation. Property prices dropped by 41 percent, and the impact on the construction industry was severe. The unemployment rate was approaching 10 percent by the end of 2008 and continued to grow in 2009. Major casino resort corporations shelved large projects and still face severe financial concerns.
By March 2009, continued downturns in all major economic indicators had occurred in southern Nevada. The unemployment rate had reached 10 percent, the tourist volume had double-digit reductions, and the tax revenue streams have all seen significant drops.
The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) is a consolidated police agency that provides primary police and corrections services to a county of approximately 7,000 square miles. The agency serves the major core metropolitan areas in the city of Las Vegas and the unincorporated urban and rural areas in Clark County. The agency also operates the major detention facilities in the county, provides police services to McCarran International Airport, and offers numerous other regional services including search and rescue, an intelligence fusion center, and a dispatch center (Metrocom).
The LVMPD’s vision is to make Las Vegas the safest community in America. As the depth and breadth of the economic downturn became more apparent, the agency recognized that issues such as the high-unemployment rate, business and bank failures, and high foreclosure rates all have an impact on the agency’s ability to achieve its vision and accomplish its goals. Those goals follow:
- To prevent, reduce, and disrupt crime and terrorism
- To recruit, train, and develop its employees
- To initiate timely and open communication
- To develop and implement solutions to improve traffic safety
- To effectively use innovation and technology
The Agency’s Approach
When faced with any major issue, people are most concerned with how the outcome will affect them. The question “How will this change impact me?” is omnipresent. Police department employees are members of the community and crises impact them, their families, and their friends. The LVMPD sheriff initiated an open dialogue in 2008 concerning the issues surrounding the economic crisis. This discussion was carried by the agency leadership from the sheriff to all parts of the agency. The hallmark of keeping communications timely and open required transparency on all aspects of the crisis. By understanding the needs of the employees, addressing their concerns, and then setting a path toward a goal, the agency has been able to focus on the future. The open and frank conversations have allowed agency employees to meet head-on the area’s economic challenges.
The LVMPD began to undertake a proactive approach on several fronts to ensure that the department addressed the variety of issues surrounding the economic downturn.
Budget Development during the Economic Downturn
The LVMPD is funded by both the city of Las Vegas and Clark County for urban police services. Rural county areas and the detention operations are fully funded by Clark County. Las Vegas’s McCarran International Airport is provided contractible police services by the agency. In addition, self-generated revenue also funds operations. Funding streams saw a significant reduction, and this reduction has impacted the LVMPD.
The sheriff set as a goal that the agency’s budget submittal would have a zero percent growth factor, through a mandate given to each commander. Each bureau commander then developed and presented proposals to their peers and the agency leadership.
The open review resulted in the LVMPD making significant reductions. Those reductions, coupled with reductions based on the new collective-bargaining agreement, resulted in 26.1 million dollars in savings. This savings came, in part, from eliminations of 26 civilian positions and 13 temporary positions that when vacated went unfilled. Vehicles and equipment procurement were analyzed to ensure only required purchases were made. In addition, all aspects of the operation were critically reviewed to identify areas to cut costs.
The discussions that occurred resulted in a significant reduction in LVMPD’s budget, allowing the sheriff to be able to present a zero growth budget request to the funding bodies.
Contract Development during the Economic Downturn
The major costs to the LVMPD, and to most police agencies, are the salary and benefit packages provided to employees.
The LVMPD has three labor associations under collective-bargaining agreements:
- The Las Vegas Police Protective Association, which represents all police and corrections officers
- The Las Vegas Police Managers and Supervisors Association, which represents all police and corrections sergeants, lieutenants, and captains
- The Las Vegas Police Protective Association, Civilian Employees, which represents all civilian employees
Appointed employees are not represented by any association and serve at the pleasure of the sheriff.
The agency included the associations in the budget hearing and provided them with all available information on fiscal issues. Numerous meetings were held with association leadership, which further assisted the agency in making the case that the agency’s fiscal problems were serious and required immediate attention.
The current contract with the Police Protective Association was reopened for negotiations in 2009. Instead of a multiyear contract, a one-year contract was put in place. In years past, the negotiations took several months. But by March 2009, a tentative agreement was in place; the negotiation was completed in 30 days and resulted in a one-year tentative contract with no cost-of-living increase.
Negotiations with the Police Protective Association, Civilian Employees, began upon completion of the Police Protection Association’s contract. These negotiations were also completed in record time and resulted in a reduction of the cost-of-living increases made to civilian employees.
Operations during the Economic Downturn
Using a strategic planning process, the LVMPD began to explore ways in which the agency could use its unique role in the community to put in place a plan to address issues that have impacted citizens and employees from an operational standpoint.
The agency invited agency members, both civilian and commissioned, to be part of the process. Large focus groups were assembled. The participants were asked to complete a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) analysis concerning the economic crisis and the LVMPD.
The first session was used to conduct a SWOT analysis and to gather answers related to what the agency was currently facing and may face in the future, as related to the economic downturn. More than 100 responses from the large number of participants were gathered. The responses were then analyzed and two broad categories of major concern were discovered: community-wide issues and agency issues.
Participants were then asked to go back to their workplaces and to their communities and return with any further concerns. Those additional ideas where gathered and categorized.
The agency then held a second session. During this session, participants were asked to rank the various community- or agency-wide issues, with the understanding that this ranking system would help the agency prioritize issues it could address immediately. Agency executives used these rankings to develop strategies that were assigned to various parts of the LVMPD. Strategy implementation progress was reported each month to the department’s Economic Downturn Steering Committee.
Community-Wide Issues Identified
During the discussions conducted by the 10 focus groups, the following were identified as the top issues impacting the community (see table 1):
- Issue 1: “Stress on the family leading to more domestic violence” was mentioned ten times by the groups. In six groups, the issue was rated as the top priority, and in four groups, it was the second priority. The issue ranked consistently as the first or second priority in all ten groups.
- Issue 2: “Unemployment rate increase” was ranked as the top priority four times, as the second priority three times, and as the third priority twice.
- Issue 3: “Support agency cutbacks” was mentioned four times by the groups as an issue impacting the community.
- Issue 4: “Foreclosure rates that lead to more abandoned homes” was mentioned four times by the groups.
The LVMPD moved to address these issues in the following manners:
Issue 1: Stress on the family leading to more domestic violence. Because of the higher levels of substance abuse coupled with higher unemployment, the agency took proactive steps to reduce domestic violence. Several studies have shown a correlation between incidences of domestic violence and substance abuse and between incidences of domestic violence and unemployment.1 The Crimes Against Youth and Family (CAYF) Bureau and the area commands worked in concert to develop and implement a plan to address increases in domestic violence.
The LVMPD’s plans to address domestic violence comprise a more intense response protocol to incidences of domestic violence.
A new protocol has been put in place for the response to domestic violence calls. What was added is a phone call to a domestic violence outreach organization, such as SafeNest, Westcare, and Rape Crisis. The officer on the scene offers to make a phone call on behalf of the victim.
These nongovernmental organizations provide victims access to counseling, shelter, and other types of community support as well as transportation. This new response was put in place only after strong partnerships with faith-based groups and community groups were first established.
If the victim declines to talk to counselors while the officer was at the scene, the CAYF section makes a follow-up call the next day. The victim advocate detail then will make follow-up calls to the households from which the domestic violence calls occurred.
The LVMPD public website was updated to add information concerning domestic violence. The website includes
- public service announcements on domestic violence;
- links to domestic violence prevention sites; and
- links to community resources, outreach programs, financial assistance programs, job assistance, and treatment programs.
The agency also increased the awareness of officers assigned to the Youth Education Section on programs that assist victims of domestic violence.
The LVMPD resource card provided to officers was updated to add domestic violence resources. In addition, the topic has been discussed at First Tuesday, a monthly community meeting held at each area command.
The increased numbers of officers in the field is hoped to cause a decrease in the amount of domestic violence. In addition, the area commands have begun an aggressive effort to conduct proactive enforcement efforts on liquor establishments. The LVMPD Street Narcotics Teams, in conjunction with the area commands, will continue to combat street-level drug dealing.
With the emphasis on domestic violence, the CAYF Bureau has established and will maintain a strong connection with the district attorney to ensure intervention on domestic violence cases. In addition, CAYF is supporting a new law introduced into the Nevada legislature that will make strangulation attempts during domestic violence incidents a felony.
The LVMPD had implemented a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) program. Efforts had already been taken to increase the number of CIT officers deployed to the field. In addition, starting in January 2009, the agency launched a program to train all current field training officers and supervisors in CIT. The future plan is exploring how to train officers who have completed the academy and field training, but who have not yet completed probation in CIT.
Due to the rising numbers of people in the community who are suffering from short-term and long-term mental health issues, the LVMPD has observed that having more trained CIT officers is a benefit.
Issue 2: Unemployment rate increase. The department, as one of the few agencies in the community that is hiring, continues to make outreach efforts to recruit citizens for positions inside the agency. Current job listings are posted on the agency website.
The LVMPD continues to be present at various job fair events. The downturn has caused an increase in the number of candidates for positions, which gives the agency its choice of many high-quality candidates. The LVMPD has targeted former employees of the banking and airline industries in its recruiting efforts. The skill sets of those business sectors translate easily to agency positions, such as dispatcher, at the LVMPD. LVMPD has also worked to further improve its partnership with Nevada Partners, a local work-development organization.
Issue 3: Support agency cutbacks. The LVMPD continues to sponsor various food and clothing drives. Following are examples from the fourth quarter of 2008 and the first quarter of 2009 of support to community groups:
- Good Neighbor Community Food Drive (enterprise area command)
- Goodie Two Shoes Foundation (support services bureau)
- Special Olympics Torch Run (agency wide)
- Big Brothers and Sisters (agency wide)
- Three Square Food Bank (training bureau)
- Quarterly fund drive for charity (research bureau)
In addition, the LVMPD worked with agencies experiencing cutbacks in service to determine more flexible ways to provide service. One example is response to after-hours alarms in city facilities that were normally handled by the City of Las Vegas: Deputy City Marshal unit. The LVMPD agreed to handle these routine calls, since the Marshal unit had experienced cutbacks.
When the Clark County Social Services unit began to experience issues surrounding large numbers of citizens at their facilities who needed social services, the agency could not afford to hire additional personnel to handle the large crowds. The LVMPD worked with the unit to apply crime prevention through environmental design and staff training. The result was fewer problems for both agencies.
When a series of incidents occurred in and around schools, the LVMPD, the Clark County School District, and the school police worked in concert to implement a comprehensive plan to increase safety around schools. The school district continues to experience cuts in funding.
Issue 4: Foreclosure rates that lead to more abandoned homes. The LVMPD receives information on the economic downturn from Clark County and the city of Las Vegas, including maps to identify problem areas and track foreclosure rates and locations.
The agency partners with the city and the county to identify vacant homes. Once such homes are identified, the needed steps to keep them from becoming a nuisance are put into place. The city of Las Vegas and Clark County have made concerted efforts to assist the LVMPD with the issue of vacant, foreclosed homes.
The LVMPD has supported efforts by the city and county and, at the state level, to put in place ordinances or laws to hold owners of foreclosures accountable for upkeep. The LVMPD supports programs that assist citizens to avoid foreclosure.
Response to Agency-Specific Issues
The focus groups ranked agency-specific issues in the same manner as community-wide issues. The rankings follow (see table 2):
- Issue 1: “Employees in financial crisis” was rated as the top priority by nine of the ten focus groups. It was rated as the second priority by the remaining group.
- Issue 2: “Increase in demands for police services” was mentioned by eight groups as one of the top three priorities.
- Issue 3: “Need for a centralized crisis response for employees” was mentioned by six groups as one of the top priorities.
Overview of Ideas to Address Agency-Wide Issues
Issue 1: Employees in financial crisis. When the economic downturn began to impact the United States, it was natural that the impact on agency personnel would also occur. Employees of the LVMPD began to experience significant issues involving their finances. Some employees filed for bankruptcy protection. In order to ensure that personnel were fully supported, the agency took steps to assure and also assist employees.
The sheriff. The sheriff fully supported the effort to remove the stigma attached to having financial trouble by producing an agency-wide message for employees. The message pointed employees to available resources for assistance. The message was distributed via the LVMPD video system.
The Police Employee Assistance Program (PEAP). PEAP is a long-standing program that assists officers in a confidential manner. PEAP, in conjunction with the Public Information Office, produced a video for the agency called Finances and Stress.
PEAP provided employees access to assistance programs and counselors, on a confidential basis, concerning financial issues. PEAP also rolled out a training program for supervisors called Communicating with Troubled Employees.
The Training Bureau put in place several financial seminars that were well attended by agency members. It did so by partnering with a local credit union and other financial advisors.
Patrol services during special events. A new policy was put in place to provide a fair and transparent system to govern the assignment of special events overtime for officers. A monitoring system was put in place to ensure overtime was not being overused by officers. The special events team put in place a policy to ensure the fairness of the program.
All supervisors. The agency executives directed supervisors to monitor employee issues using current systems such as Blue Team, a performance measurement program. This was to make sure that supervisors were alerted to employees in financial distress and had conversations about the assistance available for these employees.
Issue 2: Increase in demands for police services. As the increased demands on the agency occurred, the understanding that officers who on a daily basis respond to calls and needs of the community would have additional demands placed on them existed. Several steps were taken to address the increased demands.
Patrol allocation study and deployment of personnel. In March 2009, a study on the staffing of the area commands was completed. This study that began in 2008 was undertaken to ensure that officer deployment was based on the needs of the community, based on call demands and crime. The new deployment system was decided by the area command commanders, based on their understanding of the demand loads in their respective area commands.
Increased officers and support staff. The LVMPD continued to add more officers to the field based on funding from the More Cops sales tax initiative. The increasing numbers of officers being deployed allowed the agency to continue to stay in front of the change curve. In addition, the patrol divisions undertook a review of the deployment of civilian support staff at the area commands and redistributed personnel based on the service demands at the stations. The agency continues to hire essential personnel for civilian positions such as dispatchers.
Reevaluate patrol response protocols. A review is currently under way to review Response Category Profile protocols (the method through which calls are given high or low priorities) and to ensure that calls of an important nature are handled in the manner that is best suited for a solid outcome. Field sergeants were reminded that they have the authority and duty to ensure that call loads are managed. The agency insurance report-only system remains in place and continues to be a system that takes call load from the field.
Ensure community-oriented policing services efforts are made a priority. Community-oriented policing services continue to be the method that is used to ensure that the community understands the efforts of the LVMPD. In turn, it ensures that the community is involved in agency efforts. Programs such as Keep Everyone’s Eyes on the Neighborhood (KEEN), Safe Village, Safe Valley United, Hispanic Action Team, Homeless Liaison and Enforcement, and Youth Education Services are all examples of programs that have not been discontinued despite the crisis.
Conduct better analysis of hot spots to ensure efforts are productive. The Deployment Operations Center has made significant steps toward improving analysis of crime information. On a weekly basis, analyses have been produced that allow station personnel to address crime trends and hot spots.
Address leadership issues. The agency continues to allow commands and bureaus to be flexible in use of resources based on crime and service demands, with the ability to set hours and shifts based on crime. The need to reinforce positive feedback at all levels of the agency has been stressed.
Issue 3: Need for a centralized crisis response for employees. The awareness level of the PEAP resources has been a major portion of the effort to address employee issues as it relates to the economic downturn.
PEAP is the centralized crisis response system that exists within the agency. The model of response used for officer-involved shootings is the same model that is used to assist officers in financial crisis. While not as visible to all, PEAP maintains access to trained financial consultants, trained psychological staff, and dozens of other resources to assist employees.
To further enhance the outreach efforts of PEAP, a department-wide administrative notice was published, causing a substantial number of employees to take the opportunity to access help through PEAP.
The PEAP website is being updated to add more resources for officers. In addition, PEAP staffers are planning to add a monthly newsletter that touches on a variety of topics.
The current economic downturn has made the agency look at all aspects of itself. One aspect was the PEAP unit. The current staffing of the PEAP unit was considered to be of prime importance. PEAP did not lose any personnel that are assigned to the unit.
The constant message of support being sent out from the sheriff through all levels of the agency is one of the methods that will be used in the months to come. Forums such as shop talk, both on the Internet as well as in sessions with the sheriff and undersheriff, continue to open lines of communication.
The economic crisis has impacted the men and women of the LVMPD on multiple levels. The forward thinking and creative problem solving of the employees at the agency have allowed a focus on the future.■
1See U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), National Crime Victimization Survey (Washington, D.C.: BJS, 1997); Raul Caetano et al., “Alcohol-Related Intimate Partner Violence Among White, Black, and Hispanic Couples in the United States,” Alcohol Research & Health 25, no. 1 (2001): 58–65; and National Institute of Justice, Do Batterer Intervention Programs Work? Two Studies (September 2003), 2–3, http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/200331.pdf (accessed June 3, 2010).
Please cite as:
Gary Schofield, "Responding to the Economic Downturn," The Police Chief 77 (August 2010): 82-89, http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/naylor/CPIM0810/index.php#/82-89 (insert access date).