Las Vegas Sun

January 23, 2022

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Why Las Vegas has experienced a surge in homicides

Suspected Homicide Near Desert Inn and Arville

Steve Marcus

Metro Police investigate a suspected homicide in the City View Apartments near Desert Inn Road and Arville Street Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020.

There have been 81 murders in Metro Police’s jurisdiction in 2020 to represent a 12.5% increase in comparison to the same time last year.

They include: Two teenage brothers gunned down by their drunken father, a boy slain during a fight about video games and two young men killed at illegal house parties. Additionally, two babies were dropped to their death from staircases in separate incidents.

And there's the unsolved case of Lesly Palacio, a young woman who went out for a drink with a family friend and never returned home. Her remains were found in a desert area north of Las Vegas.

In what’s already been a volatile and unpredictable year marked by a global pandemic and an eruption of social justice protests, major cities across the U.S. are seeing an uptick in slayings and aggravated assaults.

In Las Vegas, police have investigated 1,931 aggravated assaults with a gun, which is about 230 more than last year, according to department figures. At least 10 fights or shootings have happened on the Las Vegas Strip.

Additionally, the 21 justified homicides Metro has probed from January to Nov. 7 represent a 133% increase from the nine investigated last year, figures show. Those are killings deemed self-defense.

The North Las Vegas Police Department has publicly reported 13 slayings this year, compared to nine last year, while Henderson Police have probed 11, which is two more than 2019. The numbers in Henderson include a recent triple murder in which a man shot four of his downstairs neighbors on Nov. 3.

Dr. William Sousa, professor at UNLV’s Department of Criminal Justice and director of the Center from Crime and Justice Policy, says there could be more than one explanation for the spike in crime.

But a common theory being explored is that police departments diverted their resources to manage the social unrest to leave behind certain levels of preventive community policing, he said.

Policing is more effective when officers are proactive in the communities they patrol as opposed to having to respond to calls for service, Sousa said.

“It shouldn’t be a surprise if mechanisms helping to manage those problems … are no longer there,” Sousa said.

Sixty-seven law enforcement agencies reported 6,124 homicides from Jan. 1 to Sept. 30, according to preliminary figures recently released by the Major Cities Chiefs Association. That’s about a 29% increase from the 4,759 reported in 2019.

Additionally, the association said, there had been 209,490 aggravated assaults, a 10% increase from the previous year. Earlier this week, the Los Angeles Police Department reported a 26% spike in homicides and 31% increase in shooting victims this year.

The spike coincided with the depopulation of jails to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, which has also slowed the judicial system, Sousa said. The virus has also sidelined officers across the country, making it even harder to practice community policing, he said.

On a positive note, although murders, shootings and stabbings were up, rapes, robberies, and property crimes, including burglaries, were down in Las Vegas, Metro figures show.

Sousa said that fewer people out and about due to COVID-19 restrictions might help explain those declines.

It’s too early to tell if the pandemic has caused domestic violence to surge, Sousa said.

That theory would be that lockdowns and being home longer have caused tensions to arise.

Metro is reporting that 18 deaths investigated this year were results of domestic violence, a 29% increase from last year, making it the No. 1 cause of homicide followed by 10 people killed in altercations caused by “perceived disrespect.”

Five victims have been under age 2, including the deaths of two children allegedly killed by their mother on Nov. 6.

“You’re lying to yourself if you don’t say that this doesn’t affect you,” Metro Lt. Ray Spencer said from the crime scene.