Monday, Dec. 12, 2016 | 2 a.m.
As a year that saw a spike in violent crime, legalization of recreational marijuana and the explosion of the immigration debate wraps up, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo gave the Las Vegas Sun’s editorial board a sense of where conditions in the valley stand.
When the interview took place, Las Vegas was nearing the 1996 record for homicides.
“I am extremely concerned by the number, but I would be even more concerned if we’re an anomaly and were standing by ourselves here,” Lombardo said of the 159 deaths at that time, referring to comparable increases in other major U.S. cities. “I would be even more concerned if we weren’t making progress, but we’re making progress.”
There’s also a clear difference between now and 1996 — population. FBI numbers show that Metro-covered areas have grown from about 830,000 residents to more than 1.5 million. “Granted, that’s not an excuse,” Lombardo said. “We have put mechanisms in place to address (the homicide rate) and move forward.”
Tactics have included hiring more officers and deploying Neighborhood Engagement Teams in high-crime areas, and Lombardo said Metro had seen a 20 percent reduction in violent crime following NET’s launch. Also, two detectives were added to the homicide unit to alleviate its case load, with two more and a supervisor expected to start this month.
Lombardo said Las Vegans should see a roughly 2 percent drop in crime overall compared with last year, though homicides are up about 30 percent within a rise of 15 percent for all violent crime (including sexual assault, robbery and assault with a deadly weapon). He expects Metro’s solve rate for homicides, now 73 percent, to be 80 percent by the end of the year.
Lombardo wasn’t a proponent of medical or recreational marijuana, the latter of which will become legal Jan. 1 in Nevada.
“But that’s me as an individual,” Lombardo said. “As a head of an agency, I enforce laws, so whatever the law says ...”
He added that Metro had researched legalization effects in Washington state and Colorado and that problems appeared to be more social than criminal, whether it was an increase in juvenile use or tax revenue falling short of projections.
One pressing issue is shifting the industry from cash transactions to bankable ones, because “cash business breeds criminal activity,” Lombardo said, noting that illegal-cartel activity hadn’t subsided in Colorado since legalization took effect in 2014.
While pot hasn’t been linked to a rise in violent crime in Nevada, opioids have, Lombardo said. Those dependent on heroin or prescription pills used to commit property crimes to support their habits. That trend has shifted to the spectrum of violent crime, and it’s echoed in crime stats tied to the rising use of methamphetamine and cocaine.
In the case of meth, greater usage coincides with plummeting street value. A couple of years ago, an ounce cost between $800 and $900, and today it’s $200 to $300.
“I know we’re going in the right direction,” Lombardo said of Metro’s multilayered response. “Like turning a cruise ship, it takes time. Change takes time.”
Lombardo said Las Vegas was not a “sanctuary city.”
That’s partly because the federal government has failed to provide local authorities with a complete definition, he added.
Metro’s understanding is that a sanctuary city is a jurisdiction in which local governments enact laws that affect immigration and deportation, he said, but authorities in Las Vegas have yet to do so.
When anyone is arrested here, his or her name is run through federal databases, Lombardo said. If that person comes up as deportable, the agency contacts corresponding authorities. If they respond within roughly 48 hours, the inmate is released into their custody. If they don’t respond, which Lombardo said was usually the case due to lack of resources, Metro releases the inmate as it would any other. Keeping a person longer would be an unlawful detention.
“All our immigration policies are associated to postarrest,” Lombardo said. “We don’t do anything pre-arrest.”
And he expects this practice to continue, noting that the agency complies with the 48-hour retainer request from the federal government as long as its emissaries meet the “letter of the law.”