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April 18, 2014

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Las Vegas seen as dangerous even as crime drops

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Las Vegas Sun Staff

Wrecked cars are shown after a shooting and multi-car accident that left three people dead and three injured on the Las Vegas Strip early Thursday morning Feb. 21, 2013. EDITOR’S NOTE: This photo has been digitally altered to obscure an image of one of the victims.

Strip shooting crash

Smoke and flames billow from a burning vehicle following a shooting and multicar accident on the Las Vegas Strip early Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013. Launch slideshow »

LAS VEGAS — Variously known as an adult playground and Disneyland for grown-ups, Las Vegas brands itself as a place where tourists can enjoy a sense of edginess with no real danger.

But a series of high-profile episodes of random violence amid the throngs of tourists is threatening Sin City's reputation as a padded room of a town where people can cut loose with no fear of consequences.

A car-to-car shooting and fiery crash that killed two bystanders and an aspiring rapper Thursday followed a bizarre elevator stabbing and a movie theater parking lot shooting.

Though crime has been falling on the glitzy stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard that houses most of the city's major casinos, tourism officials worry that vacationers and convention planners could begin to steer clear of the town because of a perception of mayhem.

"We are concerned because it can create misperceptions about the safety of the city, the safety of the Strip," said Gary Thompson, spokesman for Caesars Entertainment, which owns 10 resorts in the tourist zone, including Caesars Palace and Paris Las Vegas.

Casinos are particularly worried about convention business, which helps fill rooms and gambling tables between weekends. Corporate planners can swing the market with a few decisions, said Gordon Absher, spokesman for MGM Resorts International.

"And that decision will bring thousands of people," he said. MGM operates several major casino-hotels, including CityCenter, where Thursday's convulsion of violence originated.

Violent crime, which includes murder, rape, robbery and assault, in the city's main tourist hub fell 13 percent in 2012, from 256 to 223 incidents, and is down 11 percent for the first part of 2013, with 50 incidents reported. The number of rapes has fallen by more than a third.

There have been two homicides just off the Strip this year, in addition to the three deaths Thursday, compared to none in the area during the first month and a half of 2012.

Had they taken place elsewhere, the incidents that made headlines in recent weeks would never have become national stories, Thompson said. But when the crime happens in a city that welcomes 40 million visitors a year, people tend to care even if they haven't seen the neon lights in years.

"It's like, 'I was there! I stayed in there in Las Vegas! I walked that part of the Strip!'" he said.

The spate of violence started just before the new year, when a man shot and killed his ex-girlfriend, an Excalibur hotel-casino concierge clerk, before fatally shooting himself.

The following week, a blackjack dealer was wrestled to the ground at the Bellagio with razor blades in both hands. She is charged with killing a 10 year-old girl and then slashing her co-worker's face.

On New Year's Eve, a man allegedly fired a gunshot into the floor of the crowded Circus Circus casino during an argument. A Saudi air force sergeant is accused of raping a 13-year-old boy in the rooms above the same night.

A nighttime shooting outside a Strip movie theater left two people critically wounded earlier this month. Last week, two random men allegedly assaulted a visitor in the elevator at the Mandalay Bay property, tackling him and stabbing him in such a frenzy that they also stabbed each other.

During the same period, Las Vegas courts sentenced a Florida teacher for killing a stranger with a single punch after trading words in a casino bathroom, and heard the case of two law students charged with beheading an exotic bird at the Flamingo casino-hotel.

The shoot-'em-up car chase that closed the Strip for 12 hours Thursday was the most public and deadly incident yet.

A person in a luxury SUV opened fire on an aspiring rapper in a Maserati near one of the busiest intersections on the iconic corridor. As the bullets flew, the Maserati ran a red light and crashed into a taxi, which burst into flames. The taxi driver, a passenger and the rapper were killed, and six people were injured.

Casino executives say they do all they can to keep visitors safe, with armies of guards, networks of high-definition surveillance cameras and undercover security workers scattered throughout nearly every major attraction.

"Unless you are a complete idiot, you're not going to want to commit many crimes in or around a casino because you're going to get caught," Thompson said.

But catching a criminal isn't the same as stopping the crime.

Commissioners in Clark County, where Las Vegas is located, are weighing steps to increase safety, including installing additional cameras in public spaces and broadening the sidewalks. In October, they banned potentially dangerous objects including fireworks, knives and toy guns from the Strip.

But real guns remain permissible. Nevada's relaxed gun laws, including the ability to carry them openly, have made Las Vegas an attractive spot for shooting ranges and gun shows.

Some observers think police should step up their presence on the Strip, just as they did after three slayings in 2011.

"Clearly they should be looking into this because they have had a string of incidents now, and while they've all been random incidents, they all did happen," said David Schwartz, the Director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

On Thursday, police spokesman Jose Hernandez said the department had no plans to send additional officers to the Strip, noting that crime remains relatively low for a town that accommodates so many visitors each day.

But with violent crime, as with so much else in Vegas, perception may outweigh reality. As a place built on the promise of letting loose, the city must work extra hard to banish all fear of danger, said Tony Henthorne, a marketing professor at the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration in Las Vegas.

"It's important for any destination that relies on tourism for a major percentage of its income to appear safe," he said, "and also actually to be safe."

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  1. "sense of edginess with no real danger"?!

    C'mon now, Las Vegas is a place that offers alcohol and gambling 24/7, needless to mention that it also offers drugs and prostitution under the table, what could ever possibly go wrong here? Haha

    Las Vegas "come at your own risk"

  2. ive been a several time a year las vegas visitor for the last 20 years. the biggest change ive seen that makes me feel less safe has been the increase of gang like young men, roaming the strip at night in groups usually 4 to 10 strong. even if these are nice polite young men who just happen to be face and neck tatted up, they still make you feel unsafe.
    also it seems the night clubs attract a much different crowd than they did 10 years ago...they seem to cater to a much more agressive crowd than they used to...as a semi regular club goer (i used to go all the time, but the lines and bottle service make it not worth my time)i cant tell you how often you will see the stereotypical "pimp" living it up in a bottle service section with 10 to 20 young girls coming and going all night. the clubs are good with this as i guess these guys dont mind dropping 2 or 3 grand...of the money someone else earned...and these guys recruit all night long.
    also the number of working girls has reached epic numbers, at every casino...i can only assume the police really dont want to actually stop prostitution, just ticket enough of these girls that it appears they are trying...a team of cops could easily arrest a thousand girls a week....get rid of the girls, and the rapper pimps will have less reason to hang out on the strip.
    it has always seemed to me that the hotels want these girls roaming the casino at night so the mostly male customers wont feel they are at a weiner fest.
    the strip hotels and clubs have grown used to the money...and that comes with a price..
    the strip is more dangerous at night than it used to be, but without a army like police presence this is only going to get worse...
    so far it hasnt affected my desire to come to vegas, but at some point you have to weigh the odds...every one does stupid things when drinking, now you have to make sure you dont look at someone the wrong way, you have to be aware of someone following you into the bathroom, its just getting more complicated to be on guard all the time.
    i would have to say i always feel safe during the day, but at night, well now thats a different story...
    this situation could be cleared up, but it would involve some profiling, and stepping on some rights...im not talking about gun control, im talking about people control, make the strip so unplesant for any a select few and it will be a better for the rest...is this fair, probably not, but few things are...

  3. 1. "Las Vegas is a place that offers alcohol and gambling 24/7" Yes, and it has for 80 years. That isn't the problem.

    2. With the unfortunate exception of the taxicab driver and his passenger from last week's incident, the people involved in these incidents knew each other and/or had some prior connection to each other. Random they were not.

    3. On private property, casinos should start aggressively dealing with trouble makers from the front door to the back door and everywhere in between.

    4. In the public sector, Las Vegas should consider legalization, regulation, taxation. Prohibition does not work, and criminalization creates a criminal class.

    I am on the Strip and in Downtown every day, and several nights a week. I generally feel as safe there (usually more so) as I do in any other large city. People make the same mistakes here as they do in Disneyland: they turn off their common sense and, metaphorically, step off the curb into the path of moving vehicles. They forget that this is still the real world, and real world precautions are required.

  4. The arrogance of Sheriff Gillespie and the message that he delivers should diminish when the casinos and the LVCVA realize that he has been indifferent to ALL types of crime on the Strip AND find a new candidate to support with their $$$.

    You see---Metro has weekly meetings about "Action Crimes' BUT serious disorder, scams, and victimization of tourists don't RATE unless there is death or serious injury. Even then, these crimes can be manipulated by the type of crime that an officer/detective chooses to put on the crime report. So is crime really 'down' on the Strip? Ask for the stats and have them reviewed by independent professionals.

    One group of organized pimps and prostitutes that preyed on tourists in Las Vegas was taken down in Louisiana by a task force because they were involved in credit card thefts and crimes. They even had the Feds involved. We would have to be dreaming to expect for this to happen in Las Vegas! This was the same group "Mr. Get Rich" that got the teenaged girl stabbed (dead)in the neck at the front entrance of Ballys. Oh yes, that was an 'anomaly' or an 'isolated' incident.

    I've seen several 'visitors' beaten half to death by pimps at the 'finest' Strip hotels. I've also seen hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars in money and property stolen from tourists by prostitutes...it was just tolerated and crime fighting cops were targeted instead of criminals. In fact, Gillespie's captains (McCarthy and Fasulo) 'tracked' me more than they track pimps and their cars, addresses, and the money trail. One night, Sgt. John Hayes used his entire squad to conduct a surveillance on a non-prostitute who had lunch with a uniformed cop...based on mere speculation and because he didn't like the cop. Hayes got the officer fired - for going to lunch!

    There is plenty of police work that can be done to improve safety on the Strip. They should just read all of the e-mails, memos, recommendations, and files between me and my supervisor (former Lt. Hans Walters).

    There is a much longer time-line of crime and violence on the Strip...

    The Sun wrote about Metro's 'new' Pimp Investigation Team almost 4 years ago!! So had those P.I.T. bulls made any cases against Cherry or Harris?

  5. @chedeski...maybe you should take your tired old complaint straight to the top...when the strip casinos stop saying they are located in las vegas then maybe the rest of us will stop lumping every thing that happens las vegas as actually happening in las vegas...oh yeah, your first call should be to the las vegas convention office...hummm....what happens in clark county stays in clark county, this has a nice ring doesnt it!

  6. By Hannah Dreier, Associated Press...

    Hannah, do you want to look beyond the statistics and provide a fair and balanced story about crime on the Strip? Get in touch with the cops (current and former) who know the truth.