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Violent crime in LV keeps growing

Fueled by spikes in robberies and aggravated assaults, violent crime last year jumped more than 32 percent in Las Vegas and unincorporated Clark County, according to FBI statistics released Monday.

Henderson and North Las Vegas police saw their own violent crime rate surges of 15 percent and 12 percent, respectively. The numbers dwarf the national average of a 1 percent climb in the violent crime rate per 100,000 residents.

“All of the law enforcement agencies in the valley have seen the methamphetamine problem drive robberies, aggravated assaults, car burglaries and thefts,” Henderson police spokesman Keith Paul said.

Nationally, murders in 2006 increased by 1.8 percent over the previous year. In cities of more than 1 million people, however, murder jumped by 6.8 percent. The number of robberies and arson also rose, while the number of rapes and car thefts dropped, FBI data show.

The new numbers confirm that crime rates continued on a two-year upward trend after a relative lull in violence between 2002 and 2004.

The trend of violence hit Southern Nevada, as well, with all three of the region’s largest police agencies seeing double-digit increases in robberies and aggravated assaults.

The Metropolitan Police Department, which is responsible for enforcing the law in Las Vegas and unincorporated Clark County, saw the armed robbery rate skyrocket 50 percent and the aggravated assault rate climb more than 23 percent. The rape rate rose nearly 14 percent, and the homicide rate ticked up about 2 percent.

“A lot of big cities in America are seeing the same challenge,” Sheriff Doug Gillespie said. “We see a younger, more violent segment of our society that is quicker to resort to violence.”

The Metropolitan Police Department’s crime rates were generally higher than other agencies with more than 1 million residents under their jurisdictions. The rates of rape, robbery, aggravated assault and burglary all outpaced the national averages for big-city departments. Only the rates of homicide and theft came in under the national average.

In North Las Vegas, violent crime rates surpassed those of similar-sized departments across the country. Police spokesman Sean Walker said the rising tide of crime can be tied to the city’s status as one of the fastest growing in the nation.

“We’re having a lot of people move to our city, and it creates more opportunities for people to be victimized,” Walker said.

Property crime rates in North Las Vegas were a mixed bag, with burglaries well above the national average but thefts far below.

In Henderson, rates for all major crimes except auto theft were below the national average for cities its size.

All three departments recorded nearly double the national rate of auto thefts.

Las Vegas police have ramped up efforts to catch car thieves in the past year, including using bait cars to nab crooks in the act and license plate readers that can detect stolen cars on the roadway. The number of auto thefts this year is 18 percent lower than last year, Gillespie said.

Gillespie said he has made fighting robbery a department priority, and he hopes a new robbery suppression program will help stem the tide of robberies, two-thirds of which happen on the street and 44 percent of which involve a handgun.

“We’ve seen a reduction, but it’s not enough,” Gillespie said noting a 2 percent drop this year. “We’ve got more work to do.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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