LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Homicide rates are down in Las Vegas. Metro Police reported a nearly 30% drop in murders last year, and a 40% drop since 2017. According to Sheriff Joe Lombardo, it’s no accident murders and other violent crimes have dropped.
Over the last few years, Metro Police have initiated fundamental changes in how homicide cases are handled and how patrol officers get involved in deterring the most violent criminals.
Some of the changes started with a reading assignment for Metro brass. America is an outlier when it comes to murder. The homicide rate in the U.S. is seven times greater than in other high-income nations.
Murders involving guns are 25 times higher in Las Vegas, and statistics show overwhelmingly, both the perpetrators and the victims are young men of color. No one can put a price tag on the human cost of a murder, the emotional agony for families and loved ones, but the economic impact has been quantified.
Three different peer-reviewed studies have calculated that each murder costs between $10 million and $19 million.
“Even the little things of having an officer standing on the perimeter of a crime scene for, you know, eight to 10 hours, that is costing a lot of money,” said Lt. Ray Spencer of Metro. “And then, you’re, you know, you have the coroner’s cost, you have the mortuaries costs, you have the amount that it costs the prosecution or for the prosecutor at the DA — his office. There’s a significant dollar amount on every homicide.”
The fixed costs include the police investigations, processing the crime scene and bodies, prosecuting and imprisoning the guilty, but there are other costs borne by all of us.
“There’s long term costs that ultimately every taxpayer, every resident pays for violent crime when it occurs in their community,” said Andy Walsh, deputy chief of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.
Deputy Walsh is among the police brass who received a homework assignment from Sheriff Lombardo to read “Bleeding Out” by Thomas Abt because it analyzes violent crime in ways different from the historical police approach.
Homicides, the author wrote, are not only a bellwether for measuring overall violent crimes, but are a driving force in generating poverty, income inequality and more violence, a self-perpetuating cycle that creates conditions for even more murders. Each homicide affects the community where it occurs, lowers property values, hurts businesses, discourages investment.
Individual families are devastated by a loss of income, calculated over a lifetime. Preventing and solving homicides can have positive effects for entire communities.
Nationally, only 62% of murder cases are solved. In Las Vegas, the case-solving rate is 90% or above.
“When you look at that number and then look at the fact that we’ve been able to reduce homicides by almost 40% last year and over the last several years they’ve gone down, we’ve had the lowest number of homicides since 2011. You know, there’s a significant financial impact in a positive way in our jurisdiction,” Lt. Spencer said.
Incorporating new research into the root causes of crime, Metro Police have been able to focus their prevention and enforcement efforts on the areas where murders are most likely to occur, which are 11 specific places in the department’s jurisdiction. So, instead of just saturating those areas with cops, like an invading force, officers are encouraged to become part of the places they patrol, so they can develop relationships and identify those most likely to commit violent crimes.
Technology like the Shotspotter means patrol units can get to a crime scene before anyone calls 911. Amazingly, despite the vast numbers of visitors and locals, there were no homicides in the Strip corridor in 2019.
There also weren’t any murders in two areas that have historically been hotbeds of violence.
“An area that’s known as the historic west side that we know as William five and William six, those two sector beats had zero murders last year, and that’s really a combination of a variety of things,” Lt. Spencer said.
Easing the cycle of violence can help break the cycle of poverty in those same neighborhoods, along with raising property values and making investment more likely. It will also help keep family members alive.
The big change in how murder cases are handled involved the culture within Metro. Instead of keeping case information to themselves, homicide detectives now share with other Metro teams, including patrol officers who have become the eyes and ears of the department.