Tough Times for Crime

Most commonly committed offenses in Vegas on the decline—partly due to the bad economy

Short on change, short on time and short on—crime? While the slumping economy has taken a vexing toll, in other ways it’s been a proverbial police force itself, keeping criminal activity in check.

“People are home more. You’re not going to get your house burglarized if you’re sitting inside of it,” says Metropolitan Police Department Lieutenant Chris Carroll.

The three most commonly committed crimes—burglary, larceny and auto burglary—are all down in Las Vegas. Compared with last year, auto theft has fallen almost 40 percent and burglary is down almost 20 percent.

The downward trend hints that a lagging economy isn’t necessarily a catalyst for crime. “This shows that the people who commit the crimes are not citizens just like you and me who all of a sudden are on bad times and took up robbing and stealing,” Carroll says.

UNLV criminal justice professor William Sousa says a lot of people assume higher crime rates are inevitable during a recession, but that isn’t the case. In fact, the “I got your back” mentality prevalent during trying times in older cities is where Sousa says he sees Las Vegas heading.

“That sort of generational investment in neighborhoods, you don’t see that as much here as in the East,” he says. “But there are defined neighborhoods here. The students I have now are the first larger generation of locals. As the city grows and matures, you have … investment in neighborhoods.”

Lieutenant Robert DuVall, commander of Metro’s financial property crimes unit, doesn’t attribute the lower crime rate to just the economy. He says the police department has implemented new tactics in recent years and the community is now seeing the effect. For example, Metro has been emphasizing not just recovering stolen cars but training its officers on three classes of car thieves. In recent years, the department also has assigned detectives to substations, where they can work more closely with individual police units and the community.

“Now we’re kind of reaping all the benefits of all of this,” DuVall says. “Take all of this … and do incorporate it with the tough economic times where people are at home more, and that’s the crime trends we’re seeing. It’s really coming down here in Vegas.”

But some areas of crime are holding steady or even rising for the same reasons other areas are decreasing. Sexual assaults are up, according to Carroll, commander of Metro’s sexual assault unit.

“When you hear sexual assault, most people think of rape that occurs with a stranger in the street. That’s a small portion in the single digits,” he says. “The vast majority of these offenders are people like mom’s boyfriend, an uncle, a neighbor.”

Another area that’s increasing is identity theft.

“We’re a money town, so there’s an attractiveness to it here,” DuVall says. “But it doesn’t matter if you live here or in Las Vegas, New Mexico, it’s too easy to do it. There are too many scams out there.”

DuVall suggests basic precautions such as getting free credit reports and making sure your bank is willing to prosecute if you do become a victim of identity theft.

Sousa seconds the notion of taking personal responsibility. “Even if propensity for criminal activity is high,” he says, “if criminals lack opportunity, crime will decrease.”