Murder Is Up, Detectives On The Street: How's Metro Doing?
Are you feeling safe in your neighborhood these days?
Homicide numbers in 2015 were as high as they were in 2006. And just last month, the Las Vegas Sun reported that this year so far, the rate is up by 35 percent and one person has been murdered in the Las Vegas Valley every 46 hours.
Meanwhile, Metro is putting some detectives back into uniform and back on the street to increase patrols.
The department is in a hiring mode.
And questions have arisen about the sheriff’s policy to decentralize some functions of the department, putting detectives closer to the neighborhoods where they do their investigations. Is it working? Or does it need adjustment?
We are also going to delve into cop myths.
What’s going on with the murder rate in Las Vegas?
We’ve a very significant increase in crime since the beginning of the year. I truly believe that cops matter. That’s the decision that we made to significantly increase the number of officers we had out in a black-and-white, in a uniform, focusing in on the problem people and the problem places. We’re starting to see some turnaround to some of that significant effect that we had.
The numbers are not acceptable to us. We need all the help from the members of this community that we can get. But we’re trying everything that we can to stem the tide.
Caller asked: Why has there been a rise in the crime numbers?
I wish I could really give you a solid answer for it. If I could do that I would probably be paid a lot of money as a criminologist, but I can tell you anecdotally one of those things is…there a lot of failure in systems that people go to get treatment.
The second thing is…narcotics is always involved in every aspect of crime that we have. Almost every crime has some connection to narcotics. Almost all of our vice, all of our robberies, much of the crime is fueled by addiction. That is the biggest challenge that I see as a law enforcement professional.
You had Prop 47 in California that reduced that ‘three strikes and you’re out’ and thousands of people were released from prison. We see and we have a gang problem in Las Vegas but what we’re seeing today is an influx of California gang members. What we’re seeing today is a significant number of those gang members are coming from Oakland. They’re trying to come in and take over the local drug trade. And we have friction between a variety of gangs, which has led to a number of the shootings that we have.
Is it because Metro doesn’t have enough officers?
That would be easy for me to say. When we went through the economic downturn, we never replaced cops. We’re down about 500 less than what we were at our peak. We need more officers in uniforms that is why we went back and got the additional More Cops tax. It takes about 18 months from the time that you apply to become an officer to go through the selection process to go through the police academy, go through field training before I actually see any relief. We’re losing 135 to 140 cops every year to retirement.
Are you going to be lobbying on behalf of changing the property tax caps?
I believe we will. We are working with a number of different entities to raise that. That has absolutely been a challenge for us.
This is sort of a crisis for us as we continue to move through… We have to do what we can with the resources that we have.
Is Metro having a difficult time finding cops?
Not everybody can become a cop because we have to hire people of a certain moral character. Has it become more difficult because of what some people have termed this ‘war on cops?’ What I would say is sometimes we have been our own worst enemy. Our cops are really our best recruiters. They have an ability to bring the types of people to the process. They go out and interact with people.
Yes, we are having difficulty finding the numbers we would like to have. We certainly don’t see the same numbers where we used to have maybe 100 jobs and you would give 5,000 or 6,000 candidates. At the last test, we had about 2,000 people show up for it.
Caller asked: “Are your resources so low that you can’t investigate what I would consider serious crimes?”
The men and women who are out there in uniform today are dealing with the fails of almost every other social system that we have, whether it’s homeless, addiction, unemployment, under employment. You name it, mental health issue, whatever it is. We see the failures of every other one of those systems. And it is very challenging for our officers to do something about it.
Caller asked: Is Metro reaching out to the minority communities to get a more diverse department?
In my opinion, we have some of the absolute best outreach in this entire country. The police explorer program is made up almost entirely by minority kids. The bottom line is police departments across this country are striving to find a way to reflect their community better. We actually do pretty well when it comes to the African-American community and what Metro looks like. Where we are failing quite honestly is within the Hispanic community in Las Vegas. Our numbers aren’t even close to what they should be. As well as the male-female divide. We don’t have enough females in policing. We have a number of programs that we work on that continue to try to attract people from all walks of life.
Kevin McMahill, undersheriff, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department