Las Vegas Sun

October 17, 2018

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Sheriff links Las Vegas crime hike to California law to reduce prison crowding

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Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo listens to a question during a meeting with Las Vegas Sun reporters and editors at Las Vegas Metro Police headquarters Tuesday, March 24, 2015. Lombardo visited the Sun’s offices for an editorial meeting Wednesday, March 30, 2016.

Depopulation in California jails and gang members moving to the Las Vegas Valley might be contributing to the rise in violent crime, according to Metro Police Sheriff Joseph Lombardo.

There’s a “plethora” of reasons why the valley might be experiencing a hike, Lombardo said during an editorial meeting with the Las Vegas Sun, but Metro has had an increase of interactions with California gang members during arrests and investigations.

“That influx is directly related to, I believe, the depopulation of the prison system in California,” he said.

This can be traced back to Proposition 47, a California ballot initiative turned into law November 2014, Lombardo said.

The proposition allows for some felony drug possession sentences to be reduced to misdemeanors, thus reducing many inmate sentences.

The proposition also makes cases involving petty theft, receiving stolen property or writing bad checks to be sentenced as misdemeanors. Inmates with violent criminal backgrounds are not eligible for reductions.

“Eligible inmates who petition the court are required to be resentenced unless the court finds an unreasonable risk to public safety,” according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

That state's jail population was down about 12 percent, and the prison population about 4 percent, after the first year of Proposition 47, according to data gathered by the Los Angeles Times.

Statewide, that number was about 9,500 fewer jail inmates and about 4,500 fewer prison inmates, the L.A. Times reported in November.

In Southern Nevada, violent crime in Metro Police’s jurisdiction is up about 22 percent so far this year, according to stats provided by the department.

From Jan. 1 to Saturday, Metro investigated 37 homicides, a 68 percent increase compared to the same time last year.

Investigations involving sexual assault, robberies and assault with a deadly weapon are also each up about 20 percent.

To combat the increase, Metro in a “violent crime initiative” has tasked its plainclothes detectives to suit up and patrol the streets on two-week deployment cycles, Lombardo said.

This means that at any time there is an influx of about 70 detectives on the streets, creating an omnipresence that has showed results, according to Lombardo.

Though the data might be “short-lived,” Lombardo said, homicides and robberies decreased since the initiative’s inception about two weeks ago.

The response from Metro personnel has been “very positive,” Lombardo said. “They’ve seen the benefit of it, they’ve seen an effect on crime associated with it.”

Regarding reports of discontent personnel, Lombardo said it could be attributed to the 10 percent of people in “any organization” who don’t like change.

“There was a forest fire occurring," Lombardo said. “And we had to do something about it, and it would be a disservice for me to ignore it and hope that uptick started to go back down.”

An end-date for the initiative has not been determined, Metro spokesman officer Larry Hadfield said.

Other methods of combating crime include the hiring of more officers, Lombardo said.

Metro would need to hire 325 to 350 additional officers to reach the “ideal” ratio of two officers per 1,000 permanent residents. “Anything less than that (and) it becomes difficult for us to be proactive versus reactive.”

The police department has a new class of officers in the academy that is expected to graduate soon, Hadfield said.

Lombardo emphasized that crime is up “across the board” nationwide and that although numbers are up, the five-year numbers are lower than the five years prior to that.

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