LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Crime on the Las Vegas Strip has gone up as Southern Nevada tries to recover from the pandemic.
Metro Police say they want to show just what they’re doing to address the issue. They gave the I-Team exclusive access to an undercover operation targeting sex trafficking, specifically by arresting pimps who were forcing women to sell sex.
While visitors enjoyed the Strip on Memorial Day weekend, a team at Metro headquarters prepared to address a dark underbelly of the glitz and glam.
“There are a lot of criminals, and there is a lot of nefarious activity going down on the Strip,” Metro Lt. William Matchko said. “We have a mission … welcome everybody to I think what is gonna be the largest actual human trafficking operation we’ve ever done.”
The lieutenant heads the Vice Section.
“We’re here tonight because Memorial Day weekend attracts a great deal of traffickers to the valley.”
Arrest reports obtained by the I-Team point to a rise in violent and prostitution-related crimes on Las Vegas Boulevard.
“Sex traffickers seize that opportunity to come in and sell people,” Matchko told the I-Team.
He says busy weekends with holidays or special events attract pimps bringing in prostitutes across state lines, especially from California.
Metro teamed up with federal agencies to target the pimps. Police worked both in uniform and undercover.
“I’ll just be walking through the casino floor and wait for pimps to come up and approach me,” explained one undercover officer.
Another posed as a prostitute.
“They usually start out by complimenting us, telling us, asking us what we’re doing out there, and they go on to just tell us how we can do better and how they can help us,” she said.
But what she described is a broken promise.
“They go after children; they go after vulnerable women,” she said. “They’re just extremely violent people. They enslave them.”
In 2020, Metro identified 128 adult victims of sex trafficking, meaning they were forced or coerced to sell sex. The department also identified 123 victims under the age of 18.
In one eight-year study of child sex trafficking in Las Vegas, 922 child victims were identified.
“We have some of the highest numbers of recoveries in the nation every single year, and that included last year during COVID,” shared Matchko, “which is actually surprising, as well, because you would think with the shutdown of tourism, prostitution and sex trafficking would slow down, but it did not.”
He says sex trafficking is connected to other crimes, including theft against people buying sex, also known as “trick rolls,” pimp turf wars, and according to Metro, about half of the alleged pimps arrested are linked to gangs.
“It’s just another challenge with being a major tourist destination,” Matchko told us.
On that Saturday night, there was a command post, with cameras showing different angles, and several teams were at work while the I-Team was embedded.
A total of 14 arrests were reported. The lieutenant said three are suspected pimps.
In one case, Metro says a suspect told an officer posing as a prostitute he wanted half of her earnings, threatened to choke her and became territorial with another pimp.
“If I can go out there and make that arrest and put them in prison and prevent them from doing this to an actual victim, then at the end of the day, I’ve done my job,” the officer said.
And her work continues.
The I-Team has learned police are maintaining contact with four others who continue to reach out to undercover detectives to try to recruit them into prostitution.