I-Team: Prostitution linked to serious crimes on the Strip

By George Knapp, I-Team , Matt Adams | madams@8newsnow.com

Published 02/08 2016 05:55PM

Updated 02/09 2016 08:44PM

Super Bowl weekend meant huge crowds of visitors and locals on the Las Vegas Strip and other properties. 

Visitors see the neon and the spectacle of Las Vegas, but the police who work the tourism corridor see something else entirely.

As the economy has rebounded, so have criminal organizations which target tourists. More visitors means more criminals to rob them.

Metro Police are out there every night, but they need help.

The I-Team was given total access to tag along with the teams who are on the front lines.

Veteran officers say they've never seen anything like it. There's a new breed of criminal on the Strip. They're highly organized, relentless, and ubiquitous. Metro is out there every night, but at times it feels like trying to hold back the ocean with their fingers. It takes a special breed of cop to handle this work.

"This is our home," said Officer Calvin Wandick, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. "I've invested myself in Las Vegas Boulevard. So I see it personally when guys or casinos call us and they got hit five or six times."

Officer Wandick worked the Las Vegas Strip even before he joined Metro. He knows the nooks, crannies, and cast of characters that line the sidewalks or cruise the casinos nightly.

"As we pass this Porsche, that's one of our girls. That car right there," he said. "A lot of girls in Range Rovers, nice cars like Porsche, Mercedes.

A new wave and new breed of working girls is at the heart of the crime explosion in the tourist corridor. Prostitution is linked to more than half of the serious crime Metro sees each night, including assaults and homicides. It's not a victimless offense.

"You have your trick rolls, your pickpockets, gang involvement, pimp involvement. There's a lot of violence," said Sgt. Francois Obasi, Metro team leader on the Strip.

Two squads of uniformed officers work the Strip at night. Their nightly briefings are loaded with tales of new and egregious crimes and suspects. A jewelry store hit for $700,000, two white females pulling armed robberies out of their car, a kidnapping scam targeting locals. It's a depressing lineup of villainy, but on this night, the team got good news from their captain. Reinforcements are on the way. The squads will increase from six to 10 officers each. They'll need it.

When they hit the Strip, the officers cast long shadows, on purpose. A particular stretch of sidewalk known as a hangout for drug sellers is where the team will interact with as many people as possible, to find out what's what.

"How old are you man?"

"You got ID that says you're 26?"

"You hangin' with some nice weed tonight man? Why you smell like it. Take your hands out of your pockets."

An unlicensed promoter turns out to be a felon with an active warrant. He gets taken downtown.

On a pedestrian bridge, a young man with an open container reeks of marijuana.

"You don't sell weed, do you? How much you got on you? Officer Wandick asks.

Turns out, he's holding more than a personal stash and is arrested. Officer Wandick says it's important to stay on the small time criminals because the low level crimes often lead to more serious offenses. There's also so much of it -- that without enforcement -- it would quickly get way out of hand. The team makes 70 to 100 contacts per night on the street, and the only time they slowdown is to await transport to the jail.

George Knapp: "Your guys are very active. Is that by design?"

Sgt. Francois Obasi:  "Our motto is get busy, stay busy."

At least once a night, they march into one or more casino properties to disrupt the rampant prostitution trade that has overwhelmed hotel security teams. They are organized operations that are more about robbery than sex. The tourist hopes for a clandestine romp.

"The prostitutes and pimps have a whole different game plan. They want to take everything. You know, they want the money, the property, the credit cards, everything," Officer Wandick said. "They're using prostitution as a front, but they're basically all committing robberies."

When the team enters one casino, girls scatter. Within 10 minutes, they've corralled six suspects. Everyone has been trespassed from the property and most have been linked to trick rolls.

"It's my birthday, I'm trying to get lucky," said one woman.

"You are going to jail for trespassing," the officer tells her.

"I'm going to jail?"

Many of the women working in prostitution are themselves victims, beaten and intimidated. One busted on the Strip was 10 years old.

The I-Team has done other ride-a longs on the Strip over the years, but this was different.s Metro is devoting more resources to enforcement but that means taking manpower away from some other priorities.
Beyond the street criminals, there's a less visible, but far more sinister criminal presence these days, with new and devious schemes.

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