Sheriff Lombardo answers questions about recent spike in violent Las Vegas crime — VIDEO

Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo said he’s losing sleep over the “scourge of violent crime” in the Las Vegas Valley.

Lombardo told reporters Wednesday morning that he is committing every available resource to address the issue and is seeking outside agencies’ ideas.

As the sun rose Wednesday, the number of homicides investigated by the Metropolitan Police Department this year had risen to 62 — more than double the number of killings over the same period in 2015. Violent crimes overall, including aggravated assault and rape, have also risen significantly this year, Lombardo said.

“As I continue to figure what we’re going to do about this, I want the public to be assured that I am doing everything within my power,” he said.

Lombardo said he consulted the Los Angeles Police Department, former sheriffs Bill Young and Doug Gillespie, and others to better understand what’s driving a national increase in violent crime.

“I did not want to make decisions about how we’re going to fight this scourge based on my own opinions,” Lombardo said. “It was important for me to reach out to make sure I wasn’t making bad decisions.”

In the valley, 50 percent of this year’s homicides have been attributed to gang violence, Lombardo said. And much of the valley’s recent violence involves youths. The majority of the people killed this year have been younger than 30, and the homicides involve younger perpetrators and more guns than the sheriff has seen previously.

“More importantly, drug territory has been the crux of it,” Lombardo said.

Lombardo shared other ideas about what’s driving the spike in crime, again returning to the idea that the depopulation of California’s prison system is behind the high crime rates here. But the connection between California and crime in Las Vegas isn’t new.

“As long as I’ve been a law enforcement officer here in Las Vegas, we have seen individuals directly related to California committing crimes here in substantial number,” he said.

He also pointed to the department’s staffing levels, saying that even with the additional positions afforded the department in a new budget approved Monday, the department is still below the national average of the officer-to-population ratio.

On Monday, Las Vegas police approved a $552 million budget that includes funds to hire 38 new officers on top of the 149 new positions created when the More Cops sales tax increase went into effect in January. That would keep the department at its 1.83 officer ratio — about 2,800 officers — a slight improvement from the 1.75 ratio the department seemed stuck at before it got the extra sales tax money.

The department had more than 3,000 commissioned officers before the recession. Gillespie was forced to cut more than 400 positions beginning in 2009. At its peak, the department had 2.06 officers for every 1,00o residents.

To get the department up to two officers per 1,000 residents and address the spike in crime as he’d like, Lombardo said he would have to hire 250 to 275 more officers. That’s not possible because the county and the city have no funds to spare. So the sheriff said he will ask the Nevada Legislature to amend the state’s property tax caps.

“I am in conversation with the Legislature and county and city government to move forward with possible revenue sources in order to properly fund the Police Department,” Lombardo said. “We are not properly funded.”

He also pointed to measures the department has taken to address the crime problem. The violent crime initiative was changed to establish a semipermanent unit devoted to saturating high-crime areas with an eye on prevention, he said. Before under the initiative, detectives and sergeants were rotating into patrol shifts.

SWAT, internal affairs and property crimes detectives have also been tasked with addressing violent crime.

“We already have shown direct results from that,” Lombardo said. “You may not see that because of the rise in homicides, but we’re not talking just about homicides. We’re talking about violent crime across the board.”

The sheriff also responded to a Las Vegas Review-Journal story in which a gang expert from California questioned the department’s decision to break up the gang enforcement unit. Lombardo said the gang intelligence unit is still a central unit, and enforcement officers have been more effective spread out among substations.

“It’s really troublesome for me to see in the community and in the press that people are equating this rise in violent crime to some poor decisions I have made,” he said. “I am not and nor will I ever make a decision based on conjecture or based on what I believe without having all the information before I deploy my resources.

“Because everybody’s life is as important to me as it is to you, the most important thing I can do is provide a blanket of safety to this community,” he said. “And we will do that.”

Contact Wesley Juhl at wjuhl@reviewjournal.com and 702-383-0391. Find @WesJuhl on Twitter.

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