I-Team: Metro Concerned of Terrorism on the Strip - 8 News NOW

Chief Investigative Reporter George Knapp and Chief Photojournalist Matt Adams

I-Team: Metro Concerned of Terrorism on the Strip

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LAS VEGAS -- Las Vegas police say the threat of a terrorist attack in the community is very real and that suspects with links to terrorist groups have been spotted on the Strip over the past year.

A new team was created by Sheriff Doug Gillespie earlier this month to weed out street criminals from the Strip sidewalks. But there is another team out there as well, and it's their job to look for the ultimate bad guys.

Halloween weekend on the Strip will bring out even more colorful characters than usual. The action on the sidewalks will keep Metro's newest squad very busy. But for another Metro unit, the Homeland Security Saturation Team, or HSST, the real boogeymen are not fictional. Some of these monsters have already been to Las Vegas, trying to blend in on the Boulevard that never sleeps.

The party starts at the welcome sign, where up to four Elvi at a time compete for space and tips. Day or night, Presley's of all shapes and sizes, and pigmentation, cajole tourists for snapshots and cash. Even the sign behind one Elvis is a live performer in costume.

Superheroes, movie characters, monsters, Marilyn's skirt over an air grate, tourists generally like the so-called "buskers," except when they get too pushy about being paid or when they fight for a spot on the sidewalk.

"We have turf wars," said Sgt. Tom Jenkins. "We have showgirl versus showgirl, Superman versus Batman. We took two of the Elvis guys to jail last week because they got into a fight. Elvis went to jail in that costume."

The most notorious eyesores are the hundreds of smut peddlers, sometimes 15 or more in a row, handing out flyers for what amounts to prostitution, leaving a thick trail of trash. But there's little police can do.

"Every tourist complains to me about smut peddlers. Every night, I get at least one complaint, 'Why can't you do something about this,'" said Metro Officer Angelo Colucci.

Aggressive hucksters sell just about anything -- drugs, sex, trinkets -- none of them legal or licensed. The ones who worry Metro most simply sell water. On hot days, the Strip is lined with ice chests.

"You get people, homeless, indigent, they find water bottles out of the trash can, fill them up from an unknown source, then put them in a cooler and sell for $2. Tourists have no idea where the bottles came from or that someone else drank from them before," said Metro Sgt. Mike Ford.

Sgt. Ford's new squad is on the Strip every night to target the common criminals now all too common.

Sgt. Jenkins has also worked this street for years, but these days he and his team have a different priority -- terrorists.

"We're not worried about planes in buildings anymore," he said. "We are worried about bombs in backpacks, bombs in purses."

It might seem like overkill to hassle the hucksters about their backpacks or ice chests, which are stashed in bushes or behind benches when officers approach, but Metro sees them as serious potential threats.

If police become complacent about seeing so many receptacles, the day may come when an ice chest will be filled with something other than ice.

"If you've ever seen 10 pounds of C-4 inside a water cooler, maybe a lunch box, we actually took that much out to the desert and we put that much on a CAT bus and it split the CAT bus in half," said Jenkins. "We have a bomb go off down here, we have an explosion and we missed it, and then we are done. We are done if that happens. I believe it's gonna happen. I think it's just a matter of time."

And they think the threat is real because suspected terrorists have repeatedly made forays into Las Vegas, testing the defenses. They've been spotted taking photos of security cameras, creeping around on top of buildings, around chemical tanks, searching for weaknesses.

Remember, most of the 9/11 terrorists visited Las Vegas first. So the Metro teams walk the street, ride the buses and monorail, make themselves visible and vigilant. They work with casino security, make use of a vast array of surveillance cameras, and hope to make the bad guys think twice.

"What we want to hear now, and we do, is 'Why are there so many of you guys out there?' That is the whole point," said Sgt. Jenkins. "So if they think they can come here and get away and not be seen, we are coming and we will find you."

At the nightly briefings for the Convention Area Command, the sheriff and his chiefs emphasize, over and over, the importance of vigilance on the Strip for all officers, not just the Homeland Security teams.

The fact is, the community is on a short list of possible targets and Metro intends to make it as difficult as possible for the bad guys to pull something off.

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