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The Real Reason Violent Crime Is Up In Las Vegas

Associated Press

Surveillance video of three men wanted in connection with a deadly robbery April 18 at a Lee's Liquor Store at Durango Drive and Warm Springs Road.

It's no secret that violent crime is up this year.

Homicides are up 91 percent versus the same time last year. Robberies are up. So is aggravated assault.

What’s going on?

Clark County Undersheriff Kevin McMahill said on KNPR's State of Nevada last month that the increase was because of new laws in California that have allowed the release of some prisoners.

Since 2011, California has given early release to some 30,000 prisoners due to overcrowding and orders by the U.S. Supreme Court.

But Wes McBride has a different take on it.

McBride worked in gang enforcement in Los Angeles until his retirement in the early 2000s. He’s the head of the California Gang Investigators Association.

McBride told KNPR’s State of Nevada that Las Vegas police tell him decentralizing Metro's Gang Unit has opened the door for gang members. He does admit that gang members from California do come east to Las Vegas, but they learn quickly where they stand.

“It doesn’t take them long for them to find out they’re not being targeted anymore,” he said, “There is no one on the street making it uncomfortable for them.”  

McBride said jurisdictions don’t speak to each other, which means the officers don’t have the information they need.

“When you lose that that intelligence factor and then the intelligence factor feeds the enforcement factor and that’s not happening,” McBride said.   

McBride said the gang officers he has talked with are being asked to work on other things instead of focusing on gang enforcement. He said focus is vital when you’re trying to control gangs.

“You have to be specialized and focused,” he said. McBride pointed to the way that the Los Angeles Police Department has a centralized gang command.

However, Metro Police Undersheriff Kevin McMahill disputed that assessment. He said there are three parts to the gang unit: prevention and outreach, gang intelligence and enforcement. The enforcement part of the unit dropped to just 14 people, which he said made the unit “ineffective.”

“Let’s just say we were going to go back and reinstitute a gang unit, I would need at minimum to put 50 to 100 police officers in there,” he said, “If I were to put 50 to 100 police officers back into a gang unit it would require me to take all of those bodies out of the patrol area commands where they’re desperately needed right now”

Because of the lack of staffing and to improve enforcement for specific neighborhoods, Metro put gang detectives into substations instead of a centralized office.

“The idea here was to take those individual gang detectives that have a tremendous amount of training… and to put them out into each of those individual area commands… to give those individual area commanders a better ability to deal with the gang crimes that are unique and specific to those geographic areas.”

However, the other two functions of the unit are still centralized, which means the information needed to fight gangs is shared among everyone, including partners in North Las Vegas, Henderson and the Clark County School District Police.

McMahill pointed out that this decentralization move only happened last July and it really will take time to see how it is working. He said the numbers are already rising.

“The number of cases submitted to the Clark County District Attorney’s office for gang crimes has more than tripled since we decentralized,” he said. 


Kevin McMahill, undersheriff, Las Vegas Metrpolitan Police Department;  Wes McBride, executive director, California Gang Investigators Association

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.