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Take comfort in violent crimes going down along with economy

The recession is staggering into its 20th month, and unemployment in Las Vegas surpasses 12 percent; so it makes perfect sense crime would be going up.

Think again.

Sheriff Doug Gillespie — a guy who should know — said the miserable economy isn’t generating more crime, at least not in his jurisdiction.

More good news, depending on your predilections: Prostitution is down. Hookers are hurting from a shortage of paying customers.

Gillespie offered two explanations for crime not going up. The first is a more visible police presence with 600 more officers, courtesy of the 2004 More Cops initiative.

“We have a presence, and we have the ability to do some things we haven’t been able to do in the past, when the criminal element felt more comfortable doing what they were doing. Cops in uniform make a difference, if they’re being proactive.”

Studies show that in tough economic times, violent crimes don’t spike. One reason, he said, “The family as a whole comes back together during tough economic times. People have to move back in together. They lose jobs and move back in with Mom and Dad, or Mom and Dad move in with the kids. There’s a little more of an accountability aspect there in the family circle.”

In other words, Mom and Dad know if you’ve been naughty or nice.

However, there’s an increase in crimes of opportunity, the sheriff said. Stealing from a store, swiping from an open garage or lifting from a car.

Gillespie knows crime numbers shift, and he’s reluctant to cheer too loudly at some of the decreases over the past five years. “But one thing I’m more confident in today than I’ve ever been in my career, is our availability of resources. We can move people around. We can be more creative in our approach, and we have the ability to do more than we have before.”

The drop in prostitution in the past two months is likely related partially to the economy and fewer customers in town, he said, combined with the department’s identification of the most prolific prostitutes.

“One week after the R-J printed their pictures, many of those girls left town.”

Sgt. John Loretto provided additional numbers, contrasting the first six months of 2009 with the first six months of 2008, and then with the same six-month period five years ago.

Homicides are about the same, 55. But on a per capita basis, Loretto said, they are down 2 percent. Compared with five years ago, homicides are down 30 percent per capita.

Forcible rapes dropped 6 percent in the past year, but are up 10 percent from five years ago.

The 2,360 robberies so far this year are down 5 percent from last year but up 11 percent from five years ago.

The same holds with the 3,780 aggravated assaults. They’re down 5 percent from last year, but up 19 percent from five years ago.

Burglaries are down 13 percent from last year and down 23 percent from the same time five years ago, despite the population increase.

Larceny is down 6 percent. Auto theft is down 20 percent because of an aggressive police sting effort.

Overall crime figures reported to the FBI show a decrease of 10 percent from this six-month period to last year, Loretto said.

Despite the improving numbers, Gillespie still is steamed at legislative leaders — specifically state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford and Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley — for not supporting passage of the other quarter-cent sales tax increase voters approved in the 2004 More Cops initiative.

While Gillespie agreed population growth slowed, he considered it a waste of time “to have us go through this whole process for a legislative session and have it die in committee and they just say, ‘Come back in 2011.'”

But legislators looking to fill a $3 billion hole didn’t want to increase the sales tax for police officers when they planned to increase the sales tax for state programs.

It’s comforting to hear violent crime isn’t spiking in Clark County because of the economy. However, there were 30,855 crimes reported to Las Vegas police in the past six months, and that doesn’t count North Las Vegas and Henderson. So does anyone actually feel safe?

Didn’t think so.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0275. She also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/morrison.

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