When discussing Las Vegas homicides, lieutenant focuses on ‘the people and the families’

More people have been killed within the Metropolitan Police Department’s giant jurisdiction this year than all of last year.

The count comparison made for a story this week in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. If you want to know the numbers, there were 136 homicides in 2015. This year, Metro’s already seen at least 143.

Metro homicide Lt. Dan McGrath knows those numbers. They are on spreadsheets. They are printed on press releases.

But that’s not how he thinks of the cases. He thinks of the people.

Take, for example, the shooting late Oct. 21 near the employee parking garage at Caesars Palace, which helped the 2016 homicide count eclipse 2015. It was seemingly random.

Fuli Ji — a 52-year-old Las Vegas tour guide who commuted from Chino Hills, California, on weekends — had been working that night, and he had been sitting in his parked black Mercedes van near the garage for more than three hours, waiting for his tour group, when a man approached about 11:25 p.m.

There was a confrontation. Ji was shot a few times while in the van, then — possibly trying to get away — Ji leaned back-first out of his driver’s-side window, slowly slithering down before plopping onto the asphalt below. A witness explained this to police, and surveillance footage proved it.

On his back, Ji lay bleeding for a few seconds. That’s when the shooter walked around the van, stood above Ji and shot him again, police said.

The 27-year-old suspect, arrested nearby, had no criminal history. And he was acting erratically when taken into custody, unable to give a statement. So detectives haven’t been able to identify a motive. No money was taken from Ji, and he still had his phone, ruling out a robbery.

The only solid lead that night was Ji himself, left lifeless near the van he worked from.

“He was an innocent person,” McGrath said.

Ji’s wife and young child at home in California had no knowledge Ji was killed until detectives made the call.

McGrath and his detectives make a lot of those calls.

“Homicides — the numbers are up. There’s no question about that,” McGrath said, adding that Metro has seen a slight three-year upswing. “The best way to talk about it is the people and the families. When we talk about numbers, they’re very broad topics.”

A case doesn’t end when the coroner collects the body and homicide detectives head home. There are interviews. Reports. Case submittals. And the prosecution process, which can take years.

“There’s a lot of interaction behind the scenes with detectives, the victim advocates, the district attorneys,” McGrath said.

Metro’s 21 homicide detectives have closed cases or submitted casework for 75 percent of homicides this year.

But cases keep coming in. People keep dying.

“We would hope to have no more homicides by the end of this year,” McGrath said. “The level of violence … something has to change.”

Vegas Vice appears every other Saturday. Contact Rachel Crosby at rcrosby@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5290. Follow @rachelacrosby on Twitter.

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