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Las Vegas grapples with violence on Strip

Updated September 24, 2020 - 4:22 am

A shooting in front of Aria late Tuesday that left one person injured is the latest high-profile case in a string of recent violence on the Strip, prompting increased patrols from Las Vegas police in the resort corridor and surrounding neighborhoods.

Las Vegas police Capt. Dori Koren said Wednesday that overall violent crime is up less than 1 percent in 2020 on the Strip and adjacent areas, but aggravated assaults are up 29 percent year to date compared with 2019. The statistics apply to the police Convention Center Area Command, which includes the Strip.

“I think it is important for us to acknowledge that we are experiencing a crime problem,” Koren said, referencing the rise in assaults. “And I think we have to put it in the perspective that this is a very unique situation. I think 2020, in general, has put us in some uncharted territories.”

Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo has responded to the violence by ordering increased patrols and targeted enforcement actions on the Strip. In the past month police carried out Operation Top Gun, which sought to confiscate 30 illegal firearms from people on the Strip in 30 days, Koren said.

“That operation ended last week, and we more than doubled our goal,” Koren said. “We recovered 64 illegal firearms in 30 days thanks to the hard work of the officers on the streets.”

Yet, high-profile acts of violence and resulting viral videos depicting a recent melee at a nightclub, the shooting at the Aria and gunfire erupting in front of the Bellagio fountains this summer have not gone unnoticed by tourists.

Marta Alcalde, 35, a mother of two who was visiting family in Las Vegas from Mexicali, Mexico, called the city a “second home.”

“When I go out with my family, I want to feel safe, not nervous,” she said. “… I visit so often. It’s scary to hear violence is going up.”

Julius George and his wife, Cheryl, were visiting Las Vegas from Washington, D.C., to celebrate his 60th birthday.

“There’s no place for violence, especially where there are a lot of people like the Strip,” Cheryl George said.

Julius George added, “Everywhere can be dangerous, but Las Vegas is special — it has the tourist liability.”

Valence Christensen, 37, of Houston, was visiting with a friend to get away from being in the house all day.

“I would say the outlets that you normally go to — to go and enjoy yourself — are not available,” Christensen said. “So tensions build when things are not good, which can spark violence. You would think when there’s more people on the Strip there would be more violence. Right now there’s barely anyone.”

Aria shooting

The latest shooting on the Strip unfolded at 11:08 p.m. Tuesday in the valet area of Aria, 3730 Las Vegas Boulevard South. Twitter users said the shooting unfolded during a birthday party for rapper Moneybagg Yo, with many distributing a viral video of the shooting.

Koren confirmed the shooting happened at an event involving the rapper.

Koren said the rapper “went outside to the valet area to receive a gift, which was a vehicle.” A crowd of about 80 to 100 people then gathered nearby. As the crowd gathered, Koren said, a fight broke out.

“That fight, it turned into a shooting where one person was struck with gunfire in the leg, a nonlife-threatening injury,” Koren said.

Koren said police “have some really good leads that we are pursuing at this time, and we are confident we will hold this person accountable for the shooting.”

The person who was shot was treated and released at an area hospital. Moneybagg Yo later said in a post circulated on Instagram that he was not the target of the shooting, but he confirmed he was in Las Vegas on Tuesday night.

Recent shootings, assaults

On Saturday morning, a 27-year-old man was shot five times during a fight in front of Paris Las Vegas. The man survived, and police arrested three suspects.

On Sept. 9, Las Vegas police shot and killed a man on the Strip near Elvis Presley Boulevard. Police said the man, Matthew Patton, 37, charged at officers with a knife.

Police said they investigated another shooting in July in front of Bellagio. No one was injured.

Wynn Las Vegas recently filed a lawsuit against more than 20 unknown people who were in a fight over Labor Day weekend at Encore.

Police confirmed in early September that they have faced increased violence on the Strip, mostly fights along the tourist corridor, causing at least one casino operator to increase both security and room rates to quell violence.

Police said at the time the criminal activity would not be tolerated and that there would be an increased law enforcement presence on the Strip.

Las Vegas police statistics show there were 238 aggravated assaults in the Convention Center Area Command in 2019 as of Sept. 19. This year, during the same time, the number rose to 308. Aggravated assaults involving a firearm in the area command are up 35 percent from 2019, while other types of violent crime, including sex assaults and robbery, have declined dramatically. Property crimes are also down sharply during the same time in the Convention Center Area Command.

Koren believes alcohol, drugs and a recent influx of visitors to Las Vegas “who don’t want to participate in normal tourism attractions” are to blame for the increase in aggravated assaults.

“We are seeing not only an increase of some crime, but we are also seeing an increase in the fear of crime as people walk around the Strip and see the type of individuals who are coming out there,” Koren said.

Koren said police are committed to addressing the problem. With Operation Top Gun, police just started a new effort called Operation Persistent Pressure.

“We want to keep our economic engine of the state, which is the Strip, operational and safe,” Koren said.

“We’ve put a lot more officers out there. We targeted the areas that are known for high crime, and we ended up stopping more than 400 people in a weekend. Of that, 60 people were arrested, many of them for felonies, and a lot of guns were recovered from that operation.”

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Contact Glenn Puit by email at gpuit@reviewjournal.com. Follow @GlennatRJ on Twitter.

Review-Journal intern Jannelle Calderon contributed to this report.

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