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Sheriff’s office faces a ‘crisis’
by Joshua H. Silavent
Apr 19, 2011 | 2007 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
RENO — “There is no doubt we are in a crisis.”

Those are the words Washoe County Sheriff Mike Haley used to describe the effect of years of budget cuts on his office during a Monday hearing before the board of county commissioners.

About $20 million has been slashed from his budget over the last three years, and at least another $1.5 million is coming down the pipe for the 2011-12 fiscal year.

Sixty-one jobs have been eliminated since the recession hit in 2007 and 14 more, including eight deputies, are now proposed, which would bring the workforce total down to 711 employees.

As a result, the public can expect to see a decrease in the types of calls the sheriff’s office will respond to, including disputes in which the suspect has left the scene and those where no firearm or evidence is available; non-life-threatening burglary alarms; and thefts valued at less than $2,500.

But the pains have only begun to set in.

Millions of dollars in more cuts could result once state legislators pass their own budget and stack additional deficits on top of a current $33.5 million shortfall facing the county.

“The challenge for me going forward is enormous,” Haley said. “The next steps are massive cuts.”

Another 97 employees could be laid off as a result of 10 percent budget cuts, which would mean a total of $9 million in departmental cuts, a devastating proposition that Undersheriff Todd Vinger said could bring the availability of certain services to a breaking point.

A final scenario would reduce the sheriff’s budget by 25 percent, or about $23 million in total cuts from a more than $91 million budget.

Moreover, the effect on the sheriff’s office is felt countywide.

“Anything we do affects others,” Vinger said in a phone interview on Tuesday.

Partial closures of certain divisions, including patrol or even portions of the county jail because of understaffing, also are being contemplated.

Haley is worried about a troubling paradox rippling across society: Crime rates spike when the economy slumps, prompting the need for more public safety services. But a poor economy also means there is less money and resources available to prevent and prosecute crime.

“Our social conditions have not improved,” Haley said.

The number of at-risk children has grown as the economy has retracted and inmates are being released into a jobless world – just two areas of concern Haley said placed more demand on the ever-finite resources of public safety and law enforcement divisions across Washoe County.

But his options are limited.

“Regardless of our budget condition, we will have to address this,” he said.
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