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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

In Our View: ‘Yes’ on Prop. 11 for deputies’ body, dashcams

The Columbian
Published: July 17, 2022, 6:03am

Clark County voters have an opportunity during the primary election to improve public safety, enhance accountability for law enforcement and provide protection for officers. The Columbian’s Editorial Board recommends a “yes” vote on Proposition 11.

As always, this is merely a recommendation. The Columbian expects that voters will examine the details of the measure before casting an informed ballot.

Proposition 11 would add 0.1 percent to sales and use taxes in the county for the purpose of purchasing, implementing and operating a body-camera system for the Clark County Sheriff’s Office. The increase would add 10 cents to a $100 purchase.

The measure was placed on the ballot by the county council and states: “The revenue will be split between Clark County (60 percent) and the cities within Clark County (40 percent) and used for public safety and criminal justice … Clark County will use its revenue share for public safety and criminal justice purposes, including but not limited to, funding a body worn camera program, increased staffing for the sheriff’s office, and other expenses.”

County officials have said the money also will go toward dashboard cameras for the sheriff’s office, but that is not expressly stated in the measure.

Undoubtedly, voters are wary of any tax increase. This is especially true during a time when high inflation is increasing the economic strain on residents. But a body-camera program is a worthy public expenditure that warrants support.

Police actions, particularly the use of force, have come under increasing scrutiny. Cameras can help answer questions about what took place prior to the use of force, helping to protect the public against abusive officers and also helping to protect deputies against false accusations.

Cameras are not perfect and will not answer all questions that arise; among other policies, officers should be required to have the devices turned on. But the cameras and the answers they do provide can help ease tensions and restore trust between the public and law enforcement.

A camera program has the support of both the county council and Sheriff Chuck Atkins (who is not seeking reelection), but a haphazard previous attempt fell short. In November, 58 percent of voters rejected a similar tax to fund juvenile detention facilities and jails; officials said that would free up money for body cameras.

Ideally, the more direct approach this year will resonate with voters. But the issue does point out persistent mismanagement by county leaders.

Councilors typically have declined to approve a 1 percent annual increase in the county property tax levy, the maximum allowed under state law. The increase may be banked for subsequent years, up to a maximum of a 5 percent increase in a given year, but no increase has been taken the past two years.

The situation is an appalling flaw in state law; even a 1 percent increase fails to keep up with inflation. When councilors opt for no increase, it exacerbates the issue and contributes to a structural deficit that inherently diminishes public services.

Now, after declining to ask property owners to fund a modest increase in county revenue, councilors are seeking a sales-tax increase. Sales taxes are particularly regressive, having a larger impact on low-income residents.

The proposal is not ideal, but it appears to be the only way for the sheriff’s office to implement a much-needed body-camera program. Voters should say “yes” to Proposition 11.