LAS VEGAS -- Violent crime in the Las Vegas community may or may not make the news. But crime on the Las Vegas Strip grabs headlines worldwide. Although violent crime in the resort corridor is actually down, a recent string of high-profile incidents has prompted police to deploy in force.
If you haven't walked the Strip in the last few years, you may be stunned by its recent transformation. Instead of funneling visitors inside, just about anything you could want, from booze, to games, to shows, is available on the sidewalk away from casino security. Two weeks ago Metro added more than 100 officers to help police those areas.
The 5.6 miles at the center of the Las Vegas economy is some of the most recognizable real estate in the world. But some of its most recent inhabitants hardly resemble the visitors of old. A younger, rowdier crowd, lured in part by low room rates, mixes with Mickey Mouse, smut peddlers, and holy rollers, and malcontents of all sorts lurk along the periphery waiting for a victim.
"It's a new Strip and we've got to adjust how we police it now because it's not like it was 15 years ago," said Sgt. Tom Jenkins, Metropolitan Police Department.
He has been assigned to the Strip for the past 15 years and he is a walking reference guide. "This is one of our biggest problem areas right here," as he refers to an area near Imperial Palace. He is flanked by members of his Homeland Security team, and recently, by more than 100 additional police officers.
"We're in the no tolerance, you come up here and you do anything wrong you're going to go to jail. No tickets, you're going to jail. After all the recent problems with the homicides and all that, everything is back to serious," said Sgt. Jenkins.
The Saturday briefing for Operation Safe Strip is standing room only and far exceeding the usual count. In addition to patrols, specialized squads on gangs, vice, and narcotics answer the roll call in uniform and in plain clothes.
There is a visible police presence every few feet on the Strip prompted, in part, by Sheriff Doug Gillespie's own observations.
"I was down here roughly a month ago on a Saturday evening, walked the boulevard for probably five to six hours and what I saw caused me concern. From the fact that I saw people that had too much to drink, that were engaging with each other and a level of hostility that concerned me," said Sheriff Doug Gillespie, Metro.
The sheriff, like Sgt. Jenkins, points to the congestion, that creates tight spaces which spark short tempers, as a top public safety concern.
"See what happens here? We've got the drummer playing and we've got Michael Jackson on the other side. Everybody will stop and I'll have people walking into the street to get around these people so they can get by and that's when we got a problem and that's when we shut them down," said Sgt. Jenkins.
Much to his frustration, the sidewalk sideshow remains largely unchecked. No permits, licenses or background checks are required.
"We don't know who's under the Transformer outfit. We don't know who's dressed as Pokemon. What if we had all sexual offenders down here dressed up and they're hugging kids and taking pictures?"
Despite the challenges, Metro believes the increased enforcement is having an impact. "It's pretty mellow down here. We should of went south where all the madness goes down, Flamingo Circle," said Sgt. Jenkins. "There's so many cop cars down there right now, Flamingo Circle's probably not bad," adds Officer Shahann Greene, Metro.
Add the detention center bus between O'Shea's and Margaritaville as its own form of crowd control. " "This is where your weekend can end up, right here," said Sgt. Jenkins. On this Saturday night, there are 62 arrests, including a suspected member of the Mongol's motorcycle gang who had a knife in his hand.
"We can't have any more homicides up here, the sheriff has made that clear. It's not good for the Strip, it's not good for the community, it's not good for us. We have to protect this. If something happens down here, we're done," said Sgt. Jenkins.
Among the challenges for Metro are numbers. The department has lost more than 200 sworn positions in the last two years. Putting officers on foot means they cover a much smaller area which means more of them are needed.
To help support the effort, according to the Sheriff Gillespie, casino companies, MGM International Resorts and Caesar's Entertainment are paying overtime for additional officers to patrol the public areas outside of their properties.
This is a resource intensive operation that may be tough to sustain long-term.
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