Crime nudges up in 2012 after decline in 2011

It was a tough year to follow.

Several Las Vegas crime categories saw numbers creep up in 2012 after seeing huge drops in 2011, according to the latest statistics from the FBI. But last year’s numbers were low compared with the past five years of crime data.

Overall, violent crimes rose to 11,598, a 7.25 percent increase from 2011.

It is unclear whether the record low numbers in 2011 are an anomaly, or if 2012’s increase is indicative of future trends in Las Vegas.

Patrick Baldwin, director of the Las Vegas police department’s analytics section, said that the 2012 numbers were “trending in the wrong direction,” but that the numbers were very positive over a five-year span, which he said is a better indicator.

It’s difficult to make a judgment from one year’s numbers, although the data is scrutinized, he said.

“In my experience, these numbers won’t turn on a dime,” Baldwin said.

Violent crimes last year were substantially down compared with the numbers reported in 2010, 2009 and 2008.

Violent crimes were down 11 percent last year compared with 2008.

Robberies increased by 9.5 percent and aggravated assaults by 7.8 percent from 2011. There were 3,824 robberies and 7,102 assaults last year.

Overall property crimes were much higher last year, with a 12 percent increase from 2011. There were 46,427 reported property crimes.

Burglaries and thefts also increased. There were 14,220 burglaries last year, a 12 percent increase, and 25,522 thefts, a 16 percent increase.

The increase in 2012 also bucks national trends. Violent crimes and property crimes have decreased per 100,000 residents for years.

“While the (national) violent crime rate remained virtually unchanged when compared to the 2011 rate, the (national) property crime rate declined 1.6 percent,” the FBI’s summary report said.

Despite the local increases, numbers from 2012 were lower in every category than the numbers in 2008.

Capt. Chris Jones, who oversees Baldwin’s section, said year-to-year fluctuations are common.

“Crime tends to ebb and flow, but as you look at when crime starts to go down or up, remember that having less cops or more cops does have an impact,” he said. “You’re not always going to see immediate results in either direction. … It doesn’t work that way. It takes time.”

Plenty of factors contribute to a bump in the crime rate, Baldwin said.

The population has been slowly increasing and getting younger. More young people in a population has a correlation with crime. Most criminals are of the younger generation, Baldwin said.

The reduction of the prison population in California also has been a factor, he said.

And the economy is improving, which means there are more tourists in Las Vegas and more locals going out.

Baldwin said there’s a false belief that crime will increase in a bad economy. Police have found that isn’t always the case.

“The assumption is that regular people who lost jobs are going to start committing crimes to supplant their lost income, but in actuality that’s exactly opposite of what happens,” he said.

“Crimes decrease because of less victimization. Less people are buying new shiny things and are out and about. There’s less people coming here, less people in town.”

Murders and rapes in Las Vegas continued to trend down last year.

There were 76 murders last year compared with 82 in 2011 and 107 in 2010.

There were 596 reported rapes last year, down from 651 in 2011 and 652 in 2010.

The rape numbers should remain low this year. Lt. Dan McGrath, who oversees the police department’s sexual assault section, said the numbers in 2013 are tracking closely with the numbers in 2012.

Part of his section’s success has been a result of educating the public. For instance, he said, Strip security guards are trained to look for signs of a potential rape, such as a man carrying a drunken woman from a club or pool to his room.

For residential areas, detectives use different tactics, such as working with the Rape Crisis Center to educate young women.

“Some of these crimes can’t be prevented, but we find that some of them can. And that’s what we’ve tried to do,” McGrath said.

Numbers don’t tell the whole story, he said.

Rape “is a violent, disturbing crime that affects victims for the rest of their lives, especially the younger juvenile cases. Even though we have to look at numbers as a measure, we try to stay away from that being the only focus,” McGrath said.

There are other, more current numbers that Baldwin and his team are tracking.

The homicide rate, while at a modern low last year, is on pace to be much higher in 2013. That’s a concern for the department, Baldwin said.

And the number of calls the department receives is much higher this year, he said.

“If you look at us now, in the last five years we have had low numbers, but that’s from the hard work the agency did in ’03, ’05,” he said. “It’s like building a sports team. You don’t see the benefits right away, and we’re concerned that we’re seeing calls for services going up and increases in homicides.

“We’re seeing increases in robberies year-to-date. If you break it down to street-level violence, we are seeing anomalies there that has us concerned.”

Baldwin and Jones point to auto thefts, once a major problem in Las Vegas, which has seen numbers drop.

There were 22,465 auto thefts in 2005, although that number was nearly cut in half in 2008, which saw 11,402.

The hard work of Capt. Robert Duvall, then a lieutenant, helped the department find new ways to stop those crimes, Baldwin said.

“We use the (FBI report) as a barometer, but it’s not our main reporting mechanism ... because it’s not very timely,” he said, noting that the numbers are nine months old. “We’re looking ahead.”

The trick is finding new methods for stopping trends. Jones said people often take a short-term view of crime numbers.

“That’s work we did years back. So as you start to see these trends come up, and they inch up inch by inch, what concerns us is when we get to five years from now. Where are those numbers going to be?” he asked.

“It’s going to be indicative of what we’re doing today, or what we’re doing over the next year and a half or two years. That’s where our concern comes in.

“If we continue to lose officers, our population continues to increase, now we look five years down the road and we’re going to be having a different conversation.”

Contact reporter Mike Blasky at mblasky@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0283.