LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Crime on the Las Vegas Strip has gone up, and the I-Team was given exclusive access to a Metro operation on one of the year’s biggest weekends.
This past Memorial Day, Nevada was two days away from lifting COVID-19 restrictions. Metro Police prepared for what Lt. William Matchko called the largest human trafficking operation the department has ever done.
“Visible presence by the police officers on the street in uniform is a huge deterrent for crime,” he told us, “And that’s what our agency is trying to focus on.”
He said pimps are the target, and about half of the pimps his team tracks down have gang connections. The I-Team was embedded as several undercovers, including an officer posing as prostitute, were at work.
“If they’re a pimp, they usually have other criminal history,” she said.
Matchko reported a total of 14 arrests in the operation for that night, including three suspected pimps.
While the lieutenant’s team was at work, there was another mission on the Strip called “Operation Persistent Pressure.”
“We want as our officers to be very visible, interacting with the tourists, engaging with the tourists, and through those methods, reduce the violent crime,” shared Lt. Jose Hernandez.
He says the operation began last fall after the department noticed a spike in violent crime, like assaults, robberies, batteries and shootings.
“Many from out of state were coming here to the Las Vegas Strip, because although businesses were closed, the sidewalks are open,” Hernandez explained. “And so, we were noticing a lot of people coming out, congregating on Las Vegas Boulevard. And unfortunately, the majority of those folks that were coming out were causing a lot of our problems.”
He says other agencies, like the Nevada Highway Patrol and Clark County School District Police, have assisted. Some plain clothes officers are dispersed in crowds, and video surveillance is a major asset.
In some cases, an initial interaction for something like smoking marijuana leads to more.
“Through the course of that investigation, our officers oftentimes end up finding our firearms on people,” Hernandez revealed.
Throughout Memorial Day weekend, Hernandez told the I-Team 39 firearms were recovered.
Lt. Jason Johansson heads the Gang Unit, which made several arrests.
“The officers immediately recognized that and went to stop him from grabbing, doing anything with the gun,” he recounted of one arrest. “The subject got into a struggle with us. We eventually got him into custody, and he did have a firearm inside his pocket that was concealed.”
According to Hernandez, the department has discovered less firearms on the Strip during weekends since that one, but the effort to bring down that spike in violent crime continues as Las Vegas returns to normal.
“We want to attract good people here that are here to have a good time and party, not to victimize our population,” Matchko said.