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VICTOR JOECKS: Why Las Vegas crime is spiraling out of control

Updated May 7, 2023 - 10:39 am

Not cracking down on minor crimes often leads to major problems. If the death of Jordan Neely on a New York subway doesn’t make that obvious, look at what’s happening in Las Vegas.

Last Sunday morning, four people were shot during a street takeover that happened near Reid International Airport. A street takeover is just what the name implies. People, often organized via social media, meet at a specific intersection. They turn the roads into an impromptu racetrack. A crowd congregates and mills about as drivers spin out their vehicles. Drivers then post videos of their recklessness on social media.

This one ended in gunshots. Police believe there were multiple shooters. Go figure Nevada’s background check law didn’t prevent people at an illegal street takeover from packing heat.

It would be one thing if this were an isolated occurrence. The police can’t be at every out-of-the-way intersection. But the Metropolitan Police Department is well aware of this problem. In March, police announced that rivets had been placed in one intersection near Apex to shred the tires of anyone doing doughnuts. In spring 2022, police formed a specialized team to crack down on street takeovers.

In one high-profile occurrence last summer, police arrested Graham Liberal, a social media personality with a large following. Police said he was trying to organize a street takeover near the Strip. He faced a misdemeanor charge of organizing a speed contest.

“Don’t come to our city and think you are going to take over!” Metro tweeted triumphantly.

That sounds like a success story, until you get to the conclusion. The office of Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson decided not to prosecute. Bragging about Liberal’s arrest and then not charging him sends a counterproductive message. Would-be participants start thinking the police are toothless.

Unfortunately, this problem isn’t limited to illegal street racing. In 2019, Democrats passed a bill reducing penalties for many crimes, especially those considered nonviolent. That included raising the threshold for felony theft to $1,200. Even in California, which is infamous for videos of shoplifters loading items into bags, the threshold is $950.

This bill succeeded — in lowering the number of people in prison. In February, the Nevada Department of Sentencing Policy told the Assembly Judiciary Committee that the bill “enhanced the prison population decline” that had started in 2017. At the end of last year, the Nevada Department of Corrections housed its fewest prisoners since 2000. Nevada’s population has grown by more than 50 percent since then.

If Nevada were a safer place, this would be great news. But there’s plenty of evidence that isn’t the case. Property crimes are up in Las Vegas. I exposed Henderson officials manipulating crime statistics in a failed attempt to placate residents. Murders have risen since 2019, too.

Consider Janelle Hammell. He’s accused of stabbing a man to death last month near Boulevard Mall. He previously had been arrested for battery and three times for assault. Prosecutors dismissed two of the charges. In 2019 and March 2022, he pled guilty to assault. In both cases, the judge suspended his sentence, telling him to stay out of trouble. A verbal admonishment didn’t keep him from allegedly committing murder. Sitting in a jail cell would have.

This isn’t an isolated example. In March, police arrested a man for shooting a 9-year-old boy. Sheriff Kevin McMahill said police had arrested him weeks before the shooting for having more than 500 fentanyl pills. If only he hadn’t been released.

The best way to stop crime from continuing to spiral out of control in Las Vegas is to put criminals in jail.

Contact Victor Joecks at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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