Clark County police agencies say sales tax helped cut crime rate


When times are tough, they're also tough for criminals.

To that end, during the Silver State's economic crisis, Clark County's police agencies are reporting a drop in crime for most statistical categories in 2009.

Las Vegas, North Las Vegas and Henderson police all experienced dips in several key areas -- some by double-digit percentages.

Bill Sousa, a criminal justice professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said during economic slumps, criminals also struggle.

Sousa said because people lost their jobs and tightened their wallets, they stayed at home more. That would make them less susceptible to crimes such as burglaries and auto thefts. It also means parents are watching their children.

"In many cities, it's been demonstrated that police and communities don't have to be held hostage by poor economic times," Sousa said. "Just because the community is doing poorly doesn't mean that crime will go up."

Police attributed the crime reductions to higher street visibility, largely a result of 2005's sales tax initiative that allowed the departments to hire more officers. The departments also credited specific programs that targeted certain crimes, such as the bait cars that were highly publicized to deter would-be auto thieves.

Overall, there were fewer homicides in 2009 than in at least eight years. Each agency reported decreases in auto thefts, ranging from 22 percent to 28 percent from the previous year. In 2006, Clark County earned a worst-in-the-nation distinction for its auto theft rate. The departments also saw burglaries drop between 8.5 percent and nearly 14 percent in 2009 compared with 2008.

North Las Vegas police Sgt. Tim Bedwell said 2009's crime stats reflect well on Southern Nevadans.

"Good people remain good people even if they are struggling," Bedwell said. "They are not going to steal from their neighbors."

But the departments also saw some troubling numbers. In Las Vegas, sexual assaults were up 8.6 percent in 2009 over the previous year. North Las Vegas police saw a 4 percent increase in robberies; and Henderson police saw robberies increase by 21 percent and aggravated assaults shoot up by 34 percent.

Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie said it appears his organization is going to double its goal for 2009 of reducing overall crime by 5 percent.

Gillespie gave credit to the patrol officers on the streets and captains in the department's eight area commands for addressing community needs.

Gillespie said his department has added about 585 positions because of a quarter-cent sales tax increase in 2005 that was meant to hire new officers among the county's police departments. Henderson added 117 new positions while North Las Vegas added 73 positions because of the tax. The tax -- actually a half-cent when put before voters -- was split into two parts and Gillespie said he is going to lobby the Legislature next year to implement the second quarter-cent.

Also, the departments were able to add officers though population growth is now remaining flat for the first time in decades.

Gillespie said the statistics don't lie. Having more officers patrolling the streets is an effective crime reducer.

"Police officers make a difference," Gillespie said. "They are an investment in our future and it's (the initiative) proving what we said it would do."

Gillespie also said the influx of officers is helping in high-traffic areas, increasing officers' time to write tickets and prevent crashes. And officers sometimes have down time to talk with residents and learn about their concerns.

Henderson police spokesman Keith Paul said the department is looking into why there was such a boost in aggravated assaults. He said once the problem is identified, it will be addressed.

Paul said the department is pleased that burglaries decreased 8.5 percent last year. He said more people are likely to be affected by property crimes than violent crimes.

"While violent crimes make the headlines, it's really property crime that elbows its way into people's lives," Paul said.

Bedwell said the infusion of additional officers allowed his department to move employees to specialized areas such as the section called the Problem Solving Unit. The unit has a presence in North Las Vegas' north and south area commands; each has six officers and one sergeant.

Bedwell said that units have worked to decrease burglary rates and have broken up several burglary rings involving gang members.

The additional officers have also allowed patrols to target business areas known for high crime rates.

Bedwell said crime is ever-evolving, and his department can't relax.

"Even when we have good numbers, we're always cautious that can turn around anytime."

Gillespie reiterated that message.

"We still have work to do," he said. "We'll continue to work for that reduction in crime."

As far as auto theft reductions, the departments all credited team efforts.

Police rolled out bait vehicles -- and an extensive media campaign to let potential thieves know about the cars -- in October 2006.

Authorities have also reorganized the Vehicle Investigations Project for Enforcement and Recovery, or VIPER, a team that includes officers from the Nevada Highway Patrol, Henderson and North Las Vegas.

The VIPER team was split into two units, one to go after professional car thieves and chop shops and another to track joy-riders and people who steal vehicles to commit other crimes.

But it's not just police who are seeing a decrease in crime.

Pastor Troy Martinez is an organizer with Safe Valley United, an organization that seeks to curb violence among teens in the northeast valley. He partners with Las Vegas police to spread the message.

The grass-roots project is an extension of an identical program called Safe Village launched in 2007 in historic West Las Vegas. Police, pastors, community leaders and residents establish alternatives to violence for children and teens.

They respond to instances of violence and help the community and victims and their families cope after a shooting. They preach a message of tolerance and say retaliation is not the answer.

Martinez said the program has worked.

"We might see a shooting, but it doesn't turn into a homicide two days later," Martinez said. "The perpetrators don't become the victims."

Contact reporter Antonio Planas at aplanas@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4638.

CRIME FIGURES FOR THREE YEARS

LAS VEGAS POLICE200720082009
Homicides125134121
Sex Assaults1,3591,4111,532
Robberies5,1384,6523,977
Stolen cars16,24011,5198,928
Assaults with a gunN/A969804
Burglaries17,89517,57215,887
Auto fatalities13211385
HENDERSON POLICE200720082009
Homicides943
Rapes669056
Robberies227212257
Stolen cars1,289829619
Aggravated assaults289222297
Burglaries1,7891,5421,411
Auto fatalities251012
NORTH LAS VEGAS POLICE200720082009
Homicides331117
Sex Assaults555753
Robberies645555575
Stolen cars2,2271,6151,166
Aggravated assaults1,0511,002995
Burglaries2,3362,2091,905
Auto fatalities24186
 

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