Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

July 5, 2011

UPDATED: Safety on the Strip

Posted by daveschwartz

Perception vs. reality.

In Las Vegas, the former is often more important than the latter.

Case in point: the vast majority of those who come to town to gamble don't leave winners. Most of them know it coming in; if it were any way else, how could casinos afford all of the fountain shows and ultra-luxe trimmings? They don't build them because people are carting money away, after all.

But most people have the perception--or at least the hope--that they'll get lucky, or at least have a swingin' time ending up broke. So, despite millions of visitors proving that regression to the mean is a money-making concept each year, people continue to gamble in Vegas--and buy lottery tickets, pick ponies, and visit casinos around the world.

When deciding what to do for fun, vacationers have no problem choosing perception over reality.

That's worked to Vegas' advantage, but what happens when perceptions shift from fun to fearful?

In less than two weeks, there have been two homicides on the Strip, each involving previously-unacquainted passers-by. Neither was a regrettable but could-have-happened-anywhere case of domestic violence spiraling out of control. Both happened when visitors to the Strip got into confrontations and decided that pulling a knife was the only solution.

These two fatal stabbings have been amply covered by the local dailies but haven't gone national...yet. But let's say the violence continues to escalate on the Strip, and fights, stabbings, and shootings become more common. It's only a matter of time before bystanders start getting caught in the crossfire.

Let's say one of them is an international visitor--say from Germany or Britain. The foreign press would have a field day with it, much like the murder of German tourists in Florida in the early 1990s or the recent slaying of two British tourists, also in Florida.

The LVCVA's bet big on international visitors. If safety becomes a concern, it's safe to say that they're not going to coming.

There are plenty of theories why crime rates rise and fall. Back in the 1990s, when crime rates in New York City were plummeting, many credited the broken windows theory for providing the key to turning around the city's out-of-control crime. In short, broken windows proponents believe that when small crimes--graffiti, fare beating--go unpunished, it creates an environment that breeds more serious crime by suggesting a breakdown in public order.

Could the Strip be due for some broken-windows style policing?

I don't know if there's a direct correlation between the free-for-all atmosphere on the Strip, with hustlers, buskers, and unlicensed vendors aggressively encroaching on pedestrians, and the recent uptick in violence on the Boulevard. But it seems a reasonable assumption to make. Now might be the time to redeploy Metro to crack down on the kinds of "quality of life" offenses that make the Strip seem like a lawless wasteland instead of a free-wheeling party zone.

I'm not an expert on policing or criminal justice, and I can't tell you definitively what the solution to the breakdown of order on the Strip. But when Metro Sergeant Tom Jenkins told me, point blank, the situation on the Strip is the worst he's seen in his 17 years on the beat, I became convinced that more people should listen to what he's saying.

We've got a career law enforcement officer telling us something needs to be done to clean up the Strip. Perusing the blogs and message boards on the subject, we've got plenty of visitors and potential visitors who are concerned for their safety on the Strip. And now, within less than two weeks, we've got two homicides on heavily-trafficked parts of the Boulevard.

What's it going to take before Clark County Commissioners and Metro leadership start taking this problem seriously?

Update: 24 hours, following another homicide, this one inside a Strip casino, Metro has announced it is shifting resources to beef up its presence on the Strip.


Read archived comments (18 so far)
July 5, 2011 4:13 PM Posted by BigHoss

Yeah, who would've imagined that downtown has a safer feeling than mid-Strip?

July 5, 2011 4:18 PM Posted by vespajet

I hate to say it, but it probably takes a foreigner (or someone of some measure of celebrity) being severely beaten or killed and it makes news worldwide for LV Metro and the Clark County Commission to take action.

Clark County is facing the challenges many local governments are facing in the current economic climate. Tax revenues are down and as a result, unfilled positions within law enforcement and other public safety departments are remaining unfilled as they cannot afford to fill those positions or are force to downsize their ranks.

One thing I noticed when I was out there a few weeks ago is that Metro has stepped up their patrols on Fremont Street in the last few months, In previous trips over the last three years, I would very rarely see Metro officers during the daytime along Fremont Street. When I was out there in March, this was still the case.

They definitely need to step up patrols on the pedestrian bridges in order to make those areas more appealing and less like the flea markets they've become in many areas.

July 5, 2011 4:38 PM Posted by Dave

All I'm going to add is that it's pretty ironic that I'm getting a banner ad for Front Sight firearms training above the comments right now.

To me it's a question of using resources wisely. To be totally clinical, what would the murder of a foreign tourist "cost" Las Vegas in canceled bookings, etc? What will it cost to get people to return?

Seems pretty sensible to devote some fraction of that potential future expense to preventing the problem in the first place.

Again, I'm not saying I have the answers, but I'm pretty sure these are some questions we should be asking.

July 5, 2011 6:18 PM Posted by robert griffith

It's funny that 3 fatal stabbings in Vegas get no national attention, yet a brawl in AC on the Boardwalk that resulted in 2 minor gunshot wounds gets front page on Drudge. What's that mean????

July 5, 2011 7:49 PM Posted by Ted Newkirk

The Clark County Commission has absolutely no clue what happens on the Las Vegas Strip. It is amazing how clueless they are about the driving economic engine of our town.

The LVCVA is only slightly less clueless. You think anyone from LVCVA actually grabs a drink and walks The Strip and experiences any of it first-hand?

Unfortunately, it will probably take a very serious incident before they go "Oh, we have a problem".

I mean, the county can't even see fit to keep the elevators and escalators in working order all the time (a common complaint among my readers). BTW, I'm assuming those are county-maintained. If not, someone let me know. Once I figure out who is responsible, I'm flooding them with a host of reader comments on the issue.

July 5, 2011 9:09 PM Posted by Scott Roeben

I'm probably in denial, but given the number of 1) people on the Strip at any given time, 2) the number drinking, holy crap, it's amazing the crime rate is so low and serious incidents are so rare. I've never once felt unsafe, and there always seem to be cops around. One man's rose-colored-glasses opinion.

July 6, 2011 5:55 AM Posted by Jeff in OKC

Guess Metro is too busy sniffing Escalade windows for marijuana smoke.

I've never felt unsafe in Las Vegas. I try to always be aware of my surroundings and not place ourselves in at risk situations. Mostly, we just keep walking and mind our own business. I don't think, as a middle age white guy, I'm seen as any threat, or interest, to the groups involved with these crimes. We do, however, tend to think that being on the Strip after midnight is more at risk behavior than it used to be.

Young Hispanics appear to be the groups involved in both killings. I would imagine I'm pretty much invisible to them in a public setting.

I would like to see Metro take a higher profile on the Strip and Fremont. I was told years ago by a cabbie (so it must be true) that there were more cops than ever on the Strip, but the casinos made them wear plain clothes because they thought it was looking like a police state. I tend to disagree with that thinking. We were on Beal Street in Memphis a few years ago and there were cops on every corner. No hassling anyone, just making sure everyone had a good time and nothing bad happened. We felt very safe and had no concerns about getting in trouble for carrying open alcohol down the street, which is illegal in Memphis.

July 6, 2011 6:36 AM Posted by viceloungeonline

I saw there was a murder-brawl at O'Shea's this morning. Two tourists got into a drunken fight. The best I can tell, none of these were "Random Acts of Violence". Equally, none of these took place at 11 am, 2 pm or 8 pm. did they? They're happing at 4 am. I live in Lansing, MI and we've had just as many killings. I get that this is occurring in a tourist-y part of Vegas but you're asking for trouble being out until 4 am in Vegas.

July 6, 2011 9:32 AM Posted by detroit1051

When I started my trips to Vegas in the early '80s, I always thought of the Strip and Downtown as a safe refuge from the perceived dangers of Detroit, Vegas had a small town atmosphere even with all the excitement and late night activity. I never felt uncomfortable. That started to change even before the current recession. Panhandlers, porn slappers and others began to get more aggressive, especially on the Strip. The proliferation of overhead pedestrian walkways has added to the problem. Once you're on the bridge, it's difficult to avoid aggressive behavior except to keep walking.

When the recession began, media headline writers thought it witty to ask whether Las Vegas was the new Detroit. It may be appropriate when thinking about the dependence of Vegas on one industry, but comparisons to Detroit also make some think of crime.
Dave Schwartz is absolutely right; perception is critically important. If visitors feel at all uneasy, it's another factor in deciding whether to go to Vegas or not. If there is a lack of police presence on the Strip, is it because of budget constraints? If so, casino operators would be wise to fund more police officers on the Strip and pedestrian bridges. It's not just violent crimes, the quality of life problems are just as jarring to tourists. Learn from Detroit and other cities. If you wait too long, it'll be too late to fix.

July 6, 2011 11:00 AM Posted by southlooper

I was out there last weekend, stayed at Aria, and was surprised by all the panhandlers and homeless on the bridges between Aria, Cosmopolitan, and Planet Hollywood. I would suggest the hotels take some responsibility for the safety and comfort of their guests where it's obvious that guests will come into contact with street elements.

BTW, Aria was excellent, Cosmo made me a winner, and Planet Hollywood was totally hot. Vegas is still the best place for a gentleman to get away for the weekend.

July 6, 2011 12:35 PM Posted by Josh

Dr. Dave, I know you've done a fair amount of research about the peddlers, etc that have turned parts of the strip into no mans land. Is there anything we, as taxpaying Las Vegans can do to get a petition or ballot proposition going that would outlaw (deep breath) smut peddlers, costumes, club pass guys, water sellers, CD pushers, 3 card monty, beggers, preachers and the like? I spoke to a couple metro bike cops whosay they pass the Cosmo/Crystals/PH bridge every hour...people scatter then just reappear like the roaches they are.
I'm thinking curfew enforcement and entertainer licenses/sheriff card/background checks would be an excellent place to start.

July 7, 2011 12:12 AM Posted by Mike E

I hadn't walked the strip for more than a few blocks in a couple years. Last month was my first in a while. It wasn't a good experience; I think I've felt more safe walking from Fremont's canopy to El Co at night.

Let's be honest: an increased Metro presence isn't going to solve the root of the problem. This is all a result of the dormant bullshit lining the strip - comic book superheroes, smut, bums, strip/nightclub pushers, three card monty, three chord musicians, and watta-one-dolla coolers blocking your path. It's hot, it's already crowded, you might be late for a show or dinner reservation, and the one thing preventing you from getting where you need to go is a barrage of smelly ex convicts in polyester costumes. Fuses are shortened, tempers are lost, and the most innocent run-in with even an unsuspecting tourist enduring the same frustrations as you escalates into a fight. This is especially true when drinks have been had.

Outlaw this new wave of crap and watch these problems disappear.

July 7, 2011 9:26 AM Posted by Jeff in OKC

Here is my proposed solution:
Since most of these activities claim protection under the 1st amendment, freedom of speech or expression., we leave them alone on that front. Our battleground is safe pedestrian traffic flow. Since the Las Vegas Strip is one of the highest pedestrian traffic areas in America, I suggest that the County declares that Pedestrian Entertainment Zones (high pedestrian traffic areas, probably only the Strip, since FSE is very wide) have X number of unimpeded feet for safe access. No obstructions are allowed in those areas; either permanent (water hydrants), semi-permament (sluts-to-your-room newspaper racks, or legit newspaper racks, for that matter), or loitering (such as sitting on the ground begging, setting up amplifiers, crates to stand on & ice chests, etc.). People must continue to move in a reasonable manner to maintain some degree of traffic flow (allowing for 5 minute or less stops for activities such as the Fountains of Bellagio, etc.) and must cover something like 500 feet between stops.

Idea sound like it's got merit? And where are the holes in my plan?

July 7, 2011 11:05 AM Posted by LeoNYC

I guess we can predict the new next trend in Las Vegas: Metal detectors in all casino entrance. Gosh, Vegas has gone down the hill with all these kids drinking and walking with guns.

July 7, 2011 11:13 AM Posted by Dave

Both Josh and Mike make good points. Lets see if the gaming community, Metro, and the county are able to sort this out.

July 8, 2011 8:22 AM Posted by Eric

"I get that this is occurring in a tourist-y part of Vegas but you're asking for trouble being out until 4 am in Vegas."

But that's the thing. Vegas is a 24-hour town. There shouldn't be hours of the day or night when it's unsafe to be on the Strip, or the pedestrian bridges.

July 10, 2011 2:04 PM Posted by detroit1051

Oh, great. "Vegas Strip" starts July 17 on TruTV. Based on the preview, it's capitalizing on the subject of Dr. Dave's topic. Not what Vegas needs.

July 15, 2011 5:27 AM Posted by Mark D

Health safety too:
Legionnaires' disease found at Aria.