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Cox interrogates cop on drug grant

TONOPAH — The sheriff’s Scorpion Narcotics Task Force will continue to sting area drug dealers for another year, thanks to a $104,940 federal grant.

Nye County commissioners Tuesday voted to accept the grant, which will be used to fund two narcotics detectives and a part-time clerk. The county will have to add $163,453 to the grant out of the 2013-14 sheriff’s department budget. Personnel make up $228,393 of the combined $268,393 cost of the program. The budget includes $40,000 in confidential informant funds.

The county has been receiving the ongoing Justice Assistance Grant for 10 years. But the amount of the federal grant is down from $130,000 last year. It was as high as $152,076 in 2009.

The request from the county sheriff’s department states Nye County is one of the few agencies in Nevada to receive funding through the grant program.

Commissioner Donna Cox, however, posed a series of pointed questions to Assistant Sheriff Rick Marshall from a citizen who incorrectly thought the drug task force grant would be used to fund a sheriff’s highway interdiction saturation patrol program. Cox eventually voted against accepting the grant. It was not the first time the commissioner has voted against accepting free money from federal and state programs.

Marshall said the last Justice Assistance Grant application approved by commissioners was for highway interdictions.

Cox asked Marshall to explain a saturation patrol conducted on June 13, 2012. Marshall said in that campaign the sheriff’s department conducted interdictions for traffic offenses at intersections.

The purpose of each campaign is dictated by the state, he said, deputies could concentrate on speeding, not using child safety seats or pedestrian safety.

“The primary focus was intersection safety but anything that comes along, if our deputies encounter somebody speeding, they will stop them,” Marshall said.

Those grants can fund overtime for deputies to target motorists in a weekend crackdown.

Cox asked if deputies can stop her for any reason at all. Marshall said deputies don’t question every driver during saturation patrols.

Commission Chairman Butch Borasky told Cox she wasn’t sticking to the agenda item. But Cox, president of the Concerned Citizens for a Safe Community (CCSC), continued her line of questioning.

“I wanted to just make sure they weren’t doing it indiscriminately,” Cox said.

Marshall said the sheriff’s department replied to a request from the citizen Cox was representing, filed under the Nevada Open Records Act.

Cox asked how this grant differed from the highway interdiction program, especially when it came to searching vehicles. Marshall said the drug task force grant just received won’t be used as a pretext to conduct traffic stops.

“This is a narcotics enforcement grant. It allows us to fund two narcotics officers and a clerk,” Marshall said.

Cox continued: “What specifically are you doing with the money?”

Marshall said the budget includes about 40 hours of overtime.

“Are you aware the pretextual stops may be unlawful?” Cox asked. “How does stopping people for faulty tail lights and bad brakes stop crime?”

Marshall said people with faulty brakes or defective tail lights can get into traffic accidents. There’s also the possibility it could be a getaway car or other scenarios, he said.

In other police funding matters, the commission accepted a no-cost, one-year extension on a Community Oriented Policing System (COPS) grant the county applied for in December 2010 and received in June 2011. COPS grants normally expire in three years and the county is required to fund the officer for the fourth year. The grant was set to expire Aug. 31, leaving an $82,000 balance. But the U.S. Department of Justice agreed to renew the grant until Aug. 31, 2014.

PVT staff members contributed to this report.

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