EDITORIAL: Stemming a violent tide

No matter who is correct about what’s causing a recent crime spike in Las Vegas, law enforcement officials face a difficult challenge ahead.

The Review-Journal’s Wesley Juhl reported that, as of April 16, Las Vegas police had recorded a 20 percent increase in sexual assaults over the same period in 2015. Robberies and aggravated assaults are up 25 percent and 24 percent, respectively, from the same period last year. In 2015, Metro recorded 136 homicides — the highest number in its jurisdiction since the 157 homicides in 2006. And homicides are up 91 percent this year from the same period in 2015.

Mr. Juhl noted that Las Vegas police had investigated 52 homicides as of Tuesday afternoon, after a breakout of three separate incidents Monday night and early Tuesday, including one in which a Lee’s Discount Liquor employee was shot and killed during a robbery at the store.

Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo and Undersheriff Kevin McMahill have asserted that the increase in violent crimes has been caused by an influx of gang members from Southern California. But Wes McBride, a retired gang detective with decades of experience in Los Angeles and the executive director of the California Gang Investigators Association, disputed that claim. Mr. McBride told Mr. Juhl that Metro’s decision to decentralize its gang enforcement unit has led to the increase in crime.

Crime rates tend to fluctuate based on a wide range of factors. Certain offenses, such as homicide, are particularly difficult for the police to prevent. Las Vegas has seen periods of high violent crime in the past, notably from 2001-2006, when the homicide rate in Metro’s jurisdiction ranged from 10.6 to 11.9 per 100,000 people. Despite the number of killings in 2015, the rate was 8.9 per 100,000, down significantly from the 2001-2006 average.

That’s not to dismiss the recent uptick in homicides and other violent crime. It’s a problem that demands immediate attention.

On Wednesday, Sheriff Lombardo announced the formation of a dedicated unit comprising about two dozen officers that will target high-crime areas. The sheriff hopes the unit can provide immediate help while the department trains about 40 additional officers who are expected to hit the streets in a few months.

Perhaps additional steps might include a higher profile police presence in certain neighborhoods or a short-term reordering of priorities to more aggressively target violent offenses.

Whatever is driving the spike in violent crime, let’s hope Metro finds the right formula for reversing this unfortunate trend.

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