When Sheriff Doug Gillespie looks out the windows of his eighth-floor office overlooking downtown Las Vegas, he says he sees a city that his officers made safer in 2007.
Annual crime statistics released Tuesday by the Metropolitan Police Department indicate he might be right. Crime was down last year in four key categories, including the one for which Clark County was labeled the worst in the nation: auto thefts. The number of rapes came down after hitting a high in 2006, and last year’s homicide total was the lowest in years.
Also, fewer people died last year on the roads of Las Vegas and unincorporated Clark County. The 2007 traffic death toll of 132 was the lowest since 2003.
But Las Vegas police also saw increases in aggravated assaults and burglaries.
Gillespie said a primary factor in the improvements has been that more officers are patrolling the streets, and he plans to apply the additional resources to bringing down more of the crime numbers this year. The department has added 254 officers since the Clark County sales tax increase of a quarter-cent to hire police was started in 2005.
“Cops in uniforms driving in black and whites make a difference,” Gillespie said.
Reducing traffic deaths had been one of Gillespie’s goals when he took over as sheriff a year ago, and having the additional officers helped him do that. More officers have been assigned to the department’s patrol section, and patrol officers cracked down on motorists for traffic offenses that can kill, including speeding, not obeying traffic signals and not wearing seat belts, Gillespie said.
The department wrote about 25,000 traffic citations in 2007 compared with about 20,000 in 2006.
The annual total of auto thefts fell by 17 percent in 2007. Police credited the use of new tactics, bait cars and a beefed-up auto theft unit. In December, police announced that the bait car program begun by the Las Vegas police would expand to include Henderson and North Las Vegas police and the Nevada Highway Patrol.
The Vehicle Investigations Project for Enforcement and Recovery, which includes the three other police agencies, was reorganized. It was split into two teams, one that goes after professional car thieves and chop shops, and another that goes after joy riders and people who steal vehicles to commit other crimes.
But the department saw increases in aggravated assaults by 6 percent from 2006 to 2007 totaling 9,454 incidents. Burglaries went up by nearly 3 percent from 2006 to 2007 with 17,724 burglaries.
Gillespie said he is concerned about the trend of increases in burglaries and the fact that aggravated assaults have more than doubled since 2003. Gillespie said criminals might be resorting to burglary because Las Vegas police have clamped down on auto thefts and robberies.
Pinpointing a reason for the decrease in homicides is more difficult. Some authorities have said preventing homicides can be the most difficult task of a police department because nobody can predict when someone’s going to kill.
Gillespie said he thinks some credit should go to Safe Village, a program launched in February in West Las Vegas.
Under the program, a group of law enforcement and city officials and faith-based leaders respond to incidents of violence.
The initiative has been successful in quelling retaliatory gun violence in gangs, Gillespie said. He hopes to expand the program to other high-crime areas in Las Vegas.
While the number of murders went down in Las Vegas and unincorporated Clark County, North Las Vegas saw a 50 percent increase in homicides in 2007 when 33 people were slain, compared with 22 in 2006.
Mark Hoyt, a spokesman for North Las Vegas police, was unable to come up for a reason for the increase except population growth.
North Las Vegas’ population rose to 215,026 in 2007, a 6.2 percent increase over the previous year.
“It’s hard to predict homicides and combat what you don’t know is going to happen,” Hoyt said.
Gillespie said police are doing a great job protecting their communities, but the largest deterrent remains having neighbors watch out for each other.
“We need the community’s help,” he said. “They are our eyes and ears. When they see something in their neighborhood that doesn’t quite make sense, they need to call us.”
Contact reporter Antonio Planas at email@example.com or (702) 383-4638.