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December 21, 2014

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Police facing bigger crowds on streets downtown, on the Strip

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Sam Morris

Pedestrians stroll with drinks at the Fremont Street Experience Thursday, July 17, 2014.

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Sheriff Doug Gillespie poses at his office in Metro Police Headquarters Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014.

Downtown’s rebirth is gaining so much steam and the way tourists are enjoying Las Vegas is changing so fundamentally that it’s forcing Metro Police to change the way they do their jobs.

Metro administrators who oversee the 5-mile-long Strip and redeveloping downtown — defined as Main Street to 9th Street, and Ogden Avenue to Carson Avenue — updated Metro’s Fiscal Affairs Committee today on new tourist habits.

The upshot: Visitors are spending less time in casinos and more time outside.

That’s leading to packed sidewalks, roaming masses of people and increases in criminal activity downtown.

“We were very focused on Las Vegas Boulevard for a number of years because that’s where we were seeing the infusion of people,” Sheriff Doug Gillespie said. “But the dynamics have changed downtown. Now a lot more people are wanting to come downtown on a more regular basis.”

Committee member Larry Brown, a Clark County commissioner, attributed the shift to millennials.

“It’s the (Electric) Daisy Carnival ... The millennials are not going to sit in a casino behind a slot machine,” he said. “They are going to pub crawl.”

Downtown Area Command Capt. Shawn Anderson said police began noticing the increase of people downtown in 2012, especially on nights of the First Friday arts and food party. When that party ends, revelers head to the nearby Fremont Street Experience and Fremont East Entertainment District, prompting Metro to add extra officers, he said.

“We’re seeing this type of massing increase so that more Fridays are starting to look like this, Saturdays are starting to look like this and even midweek we’re seeing it downtown,” Anderson said.

Between noon and 4 a.m., more than 100,000 people might flood downtown, mostly at the Fremont Street Experience. That’s an increase from the 60,000 to 70,000 people who used to make up a typical crowd, he said.

Metro has taken steps over the past year to deal with crowds. It put heavy metal stanchions on Fremont East so people can’t congregate in the street, while requiring people to show identification to walk into the area.

With private security provided by casinos, there are only a few primary entrances to the Fremont Street Experience, where people are checked for ID, scanned with hand-held metal detectors and not allowed to carry backpacks.

In addition, the city has enacted ordinances to help curb people from drinking too much, including not allowing people to drink alcohol purchased at liquor stores in the downtown casino district.

Anderson said the tactic that works best is police presence.

With overtime funding, he increased staffing last month “and it made a tremendous difference. The business community says (the difference) is like night and day.”

Committee members wondered aloud if downtown businesses were willing to pay for more police, and Gillespie said that those discussions were “ongoing.”

On the Strip, meanwhile, Capt. Devin Ballard, who oversees the Convention Center Area Command, said police are also seeing more people outside walking the boulevard.

“We have to understand we cannot police the same way, and that’s going to take additional resources. There’s just no way to get around that,” he said.

Just a month ago, Ballard said, Metro started posting officers on the pedestrian overpasses that crisscross the Strip, as the foot bridges act as chokepoints for petty thieves who prey on tourists.

“It’s proven to be very successful,” he said.

Deputy Chief Tom Roberts, who oversees all eight of Metro’s area commands, said he expects more foot patrols in the coming months.

Gillespie also noted that SLS, the former Sahara, is about to open, and across the street, MGM Resorts plans to develop 33 acres into the City of Rock, an open-air concert venue capable of accommodating 80,000 people.

“For a while now ... we haven’t had to put a lot of officers (on the Strip) from Circus Circus down,” Gillespie said. “Now that’s going to change.”

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