The neighborhood surrounding Lubertha Johnson Park on Balzar Avenue and Concord Street will never be confused with Green Valley or Summerlin. Bars on doors and windows are standard here, and residents are suspicious of nearly every car that drives by. A small playground area in a park sits unused on a pleasant weekday afternoon; there is no sign of children at play anywhere in the vicinity.
Las Vegas native Greg Bonner, 49, has lived here his entire life. Even with the threat of crime a day-to-day reality, Bonner has never considered his neighborhood one of the most dangerous in the nation. But that’s exactly what it is, according to WalletPop.com, which this month listed the 25 most dangerous neighborhoods in the United States, using data developed by real estate website NeighborhoodScout.com, information from the FBI and all 17,000 local law-enforcement agencies.
Bonner’s home turf earned the ranking of third most dangerous in the entire country, with a person having a one-in-seven chance of being victim of a violent crime in one year.
“I think it’s ludicrous; it’s ridiculous,” he says. “Ten, 20 years ago it was way worse.”
WalletPop.com evaluated 61,000 neighborhoods nationwide; Las Vegas came up with three of the eight most dangerous. The Balzar area has a violent-crime rate of 146 incidents per 1,000 residents. The neighborhood around North 28th Street near Eastern Avenue and U.S. Highway 95 was ranked No. 4 nationally, while the downtown area surrounding D Street, extending south to Charleston Boulevard, came in at No. 8.
Las Vegas Councilman Gary Reese has represented the ward in which the 28th Street neighborhood is located since 1995, and he has lived there and owned and operated a barbershop for more than 40 years. He says the area, while plagued by gang-related violence in the past, has seen a significant decline in criminal activity.
“It’s been a 150 percent turnaround in the last five years,” Reese says.
Topping the national list was a neighborhood in Chicago, with an area in Cleveland coming in at No. 2. Both of those cities also had another neighborhood lower on the list. Atlanta had the most neighborhoods on the list with four.
Andrew Schiller of Location Inc., the Rhode Island-based company that conducted the study, derived his findings using 2008 FBI crime data and U.S. Census figures. He says crime can be tracked in three manners: using actual counts, rates per population, and number of crimes per square mile. He uses crime rates for his rankings, which he says is why a city such as New York, which has a high number of crimes but also an extremely large population, can avoid having any neighborhood fall into the top 25 because its actual crime rate could be low.
“Sometimes crime can be widespread and not necessarily concentrated into one or two particular neighborhoods that would make it into the top 25,” Schiller says. “That doesn’t mean, for example, that Detroit doesn’t have 30 neighborhoods that fall in the top 200. And falling in the top 200 out of 61,000 [neighborhoods] is ordinarily indistinguishable from being in the top 25. It’s so close.”
Schiller says the number of tourists coming into Las Vegas can be a reason why its numbers seem inflated.
“Sometimes visitors create crime but don’t get included in the population,” he says. “So therefore the crime rate seems higher, but it may be visitors doing crime to other visitors.”
There are some surprises when it comes to cities that didn’t show up on the list at all: no neighborhoods in Los Angeles, New York, Detroit, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami or St. Louis made the top 25. In fact, not one area in all of California, New York or Michigan made the ranking at all.
Such omissions make Reese skeptical.
“I won’t dispute the people who put this together,” he says. “I would like to ask them why they did this and how come these other cities are so perfect and we have three in the top eight. To me, it’s ridiculous.”
Antonio Barrera, 26, was born and raised in South Central Los Angeles and lived there for 21 years before moving here. Now living just blocks from 28th Street, he says there’s no way Las Vegas is more dangerous than his hometown.
“It’s nothing compared to Los Angeles. I know that because I was born there,” he says. “I had to move here because of all the crazy stuff over there, a lot of bad crimes, especially drugs. I came here because I got married and I’ve got kids now, and I don’t want my kids to go through that.”
The 28th Street neighborhood has a crime rate of 135 violent crimes per 1,000 residents with a one-in-seven chance of a person being victimized, according to WalletPop, yet it is described as being “more hip and trendy” than 86 percent of U.S. neighborhoods.
There is a one-in-nine risk of being a victim of violent crime in the D Street neighborhood, according to WalletPop, with a crime rate of 114 per 1,000 residents in the area, which also received the “hip and trendy” tag.
Reese says that the labeling of some areas of Las Vegas, or any city, as more violent than others can be somewhat deceiving, especially given the economic climate throughout the country.
“Crime can happen anywhere in the United States,” he says. “It can be in the good neighborhoods, it can be in the low-income neighborhoods. Times are bad. … Yes, we have crime. But is it one of the worst in the country? No.”
In those neighborhoods that do experience higher rates of violent crime than others, part of the problem, according to Bonner, is that some residents don’t trust police and would rather deal with problems themselves.
“Wherever you go in the ghetto, or wherever all the gang members are at, what goes on there stays there,” he says. “It’s just like what they say about Las Vegas, ‘What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.’ What happens in my neighborhood stays in my neighborhood.
“You’re not going to let the law handle it because you didn’t do it to the law, you did it to me.”
Mayor Oscar Goodman has
long been the defender of all things Vegas, so it is no surprise that when informed of the trio of local neighborhoods listed by WalletPop, as well as the
cities excluded from the rankings, he greets the news with a sneer.
“I think they’re designating areas based on socio-economics, and that’s unacceptable to me,” he says. “If they’re telling me that there’s no likelihood to have a violent crime in New York or New Orleans or St. Louis or Newark, forget about it. I feel so much safer here than in any of those places.”