Las Vegas Sun

January 16, 2018

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Strip no different from suburbs: Criminals strike where there’s opportunity

Map of The Strip

The Strip

Las Vegas Boulevard, Las Vegas

It’s a rare day when Metro Police Capt. Todd Fasulo doesn’t read a report about a stolen iPad on the Las Vegas Strip.

The popular electronic tablets — often left unsecured in vehicles or hotel rooms — wind up in the possession of criminals scouring the tourist-laden land for easy marks, said Fasulo, who oversees policing of the Strip as captain of the Convention Center Area Command.

The trend embodies what police say is one of the most pressing, albeit long-established, crime concerns on the Strip: property crimes.

“We preach the ‘lock, take and hide’ (campaign) with the hotels,” Fasulo said. “A lot of those hotels put those signs up inside their garages, but it comes down to needing to create a much bigger awareness to those issues.”

It’s easy to see why property crimes on the Strip remain a constant thorn in officers’ sides: The city played host to more than 38 million visitors last year, making safety education an uphill battle. Plus, Las Vegas certainly lives up to its description as an adult playground with its free-flowing booze, endless entertainment and anything-goes mentality.

It’s a classic case of consumer carelessness: Tourists arrive for a good time, checking their common sense at the casino door along with their luggage. In the end, some who come here with notions of winning it big end up losing much more, courtesy of a false sense of security, police say.

“People have come here and (have) started to think that they truly can let life go,” Fasulo said.

The roughly 2-mile stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard dotted with resorts isn’t exactly a hotbed of criminal activity. According to police data, property and violent crimes in that area have dropped about 9 percent and 8 percent, respectively, compared with this time last year.

Property crimes, a common problem in outlying suburban areas, as well, vex officers, in part, because of easy prevention measures. Burglaries within Metro’s Convention Center Area Command are up about 16 percent year-to-date.

“It’s an opportunity crime,” Fasulo said.

He said criminals scour vehicles in parking garages for valuables, swipe winning vouchers from slot machines and case hotel room hallways until they find an unlatched door, allowing easy entry to steal goods.

“That’s always been an issue for us with 150,000 rooms on the Strip,” he said, referring to the latter method. “It’s almost like a buffet.”

Crooks make off with pricey electronics, high-end jewelry, cash, gaming chips and, occasionally, guns, Fasulo said. Police have recovered nearly 30 guns stolen this year from Strip locations.

The culprits vary. Some are locals; others are visitors — perhaps coming to commit crime in the dense tourist area or simply seizing an opportunity they notice.

“It goes from place to place, depending on the amount of people we have in town,” Fasulo said. “Every hotel room has a door on it. Every hotel room door could be left open.”

The relative simplicity and swiftness of property crimes on the Strip is what sets it apart from the suburbs, which also see their fair share of such crimes. In the suburbs, young adults often work together in groups to commit property crimes, said Capt. John McGrath of Metro’s Northwest Area Command.

“To try a hundred doors in the northwest (valley), it would take you a few hours,” he said.

Fasulo wasn’t specific about the chances that, once reported, an item stolen on the Strip will be recovered and returned to its rightful owner. But he did suggest electronics users install tracking applications in case those gadgets are lost or stolen.

“When we can track it, we have a high, high success rate of getting them back,” he said. “It pinpoints it pretty good.”

Other crimes on the Strip could be committed right in front of the unsuspecting tourist, Fasulo said. Police said this summer they encountered more fraudulent three-card monte setups on pedestrian bridges.

Such operations typically have lookouts and decoys who will win the game, Fasulo said.

“We’ve got some organized crews up there, and they pay attention to what we do,” he said. “They’ll do their capering where we’re not.”

Metro has a specific squad charged with investigating such offenses on the Strip: the tourist crimes detectives, whom Fasulo called a key “piece of the puzzle” keeping the area safe.

Another piece of that puzzle is prevention, an approach police intensified this summer after sexual assaults spiked last year, police said. The pool party and nightclub scenes, ever-growing sources of revenue for casinos, were ground zero for many of the reported sexual assaults.

Metro enlisted the help of “Peepshow” star Holly Madison, who appeared in a public-service video, to spread the word about safe partying at pools and nightclubs. The safety video’s debut coincided with the kickoff of pool season.

Sexual assaults were down roughly 37 percent citywide as of last week, according to police data. The trend continued on the Strip, with 32 percent fewer sexual assaults compared with this time last year.

Police argue crime numbers could be even lower if people paid more attention to safety habits such as locking doors, using safes, traveling in pairs and monitoring alcohol consumption.

“A dark street in Nebraska is a dark street in Las Vegas,” Fasulo said. “Being aware of your surroundings in Nebraska is the same as being aware of your surroundings in Las Vegas.”

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