Clark County, Nev., Sheriff Says Tech Played Part in Crime Drop

Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo reported a decline in crime rates during the fifth annual State of the Department address. He gave a nod to technologies like facial recognition and gunshot detection.

by Ricardo Torres-Cortez, Las Vegas Sun / February 6, 2020

(TNS)—Defying the perception that a growing population leads to an increase in crime, violent incidents fell in 2019 compared with the previous year, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo proudly proclaimed Wednesday in his fifth-annual State of the Department address.

"We have a good story to tell," said Lombardo, prefacing his one-hour speech to Metro Police's top brass at the Myron's Cabaret Jazz at The Smith Center.

Overall, violent crime in 2019 was down 12%, Lombardo said. Homicide detectives investigated 83 criminal slayings last year -- about a 40% dip from the 119 in 2018.

The homicide unit, led by Lt. Ray Spencer, had a solvability rate of 92% as of Wednesday morning, making Metro a model agency for police departments across the U.S. where the average clearance rate is 62%, according to FBI statistics.

Knowing there's a likelihood of being captured and ultimately put behind bars could lead some potential suspects to reconsider their actions, Lombardo said.

Robberies decreased 22%, and sexual assault dropped 10%, an atypical feat for a crime that usually sees increases because of the "casino environment and the party environment" in the Las Vegas area, Lombardo said.

Lombardo summarized the agency's crime-fighting strategy as, "follow up, focus and policing with a plan." He emphasized that "more cops" make the community safer, and his agency hired 247 patrol officers last year. Dozens of events at Metro substations have also re-enforced positive civilian relationships.

Property crimes, however, were beginning to tick up, and the 16 traffic fatalities in Metro-patrolled roads this year is an increase from 10 during the same time period in 2018, Lombardo said.

"It's important for you to educate yourself on the daily basis," he reminded Metro personnel.

After Lombardo's speech, attendees viewed a video in which officers spoke about Metro's future. "The future of Metro is strong," the sheriff repeated as the presentation ended.

Technology

ShotSpotter, a system of acoustic sensors that detects gunshot sounds, has helped officers respond to more shootings that may have gone unreported in the past, Lombardo said. The technology, not a 911 call, alerted officers to a slaying in December in the central valley. An arrest was made two days later.

Following a sexual assault in a Strip hotel room a few days before Wednesday, Lombardo said, facial recognition technology helped led detectives to the alleged suspect, who was taken into custody less than 24 hours after the reported incident.

Although some jurisdictions have banned police use of facial-recognition technology for privacy and race bias concerns, Lombardo emphasized that Metro's system is limited to a database of booking photos in its incarceration records. Once there's a match, officers don't use the information as probable cause to make an arrest, but as reasonable suspicion -- which isn't enough to make an arrest -- to continue their investigation.

"We are considered best practice," Lombardo said.

Homeless ordinance

Lombardo briefly touched on homelessness, which he deems one of the city's major issues.

In an interview after the event, Lombardo said he supports the homeless ordinance passed by the Las Vegas City Council in November, but only because it forces the hand of decision-makers in government and the private sector to come up with funding for longer-term solutions.

The law makes it a misdemeanor to sit, sleep or camp in most of downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods. It is punishable with a fine or jail time.

But jailing and citing those sleeping in the streets who don't listen to officers' orders to seek resources can only be feasible short-term, he said. Officers aren't enforcing differently than before the ordinance as it's still illegal to block sidewalks, obstruct traffic, erect unsafe dwelling structures, start campfires, and create waste, he said. The ordinance, he said, simply gives his officers enforcement tools.

Lombardo is hopeful the homeless community is self-policing and seeking resources. He said his officers had made no arrests over the weekend, when the ordinance went into effect.

"Everybody has their constitutional right to be treated appropriately no matter what their economic situation is or their mental capacity or anything, and I think our officers are adept at that," he said.

Collaboration with ICE

Lombardo said he hasn't heard from officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement since Metro in October suspended a jail-based agreement to hold undocumented immigrants following a federal court ruling. A Sept. 27 federal court ruling in California said ICE could not place holds on inmates in states without immigration statutes specifically authorizing the arrangement. Nevada has not passed such a statute.

He said in the interview that Metro still collaborates with the federal government to remove the "people we need to remove," meaning those with violent criminal histories, whom he refers to as the "worst of the worst."

With the federal mandate, which expanded the groups of undocumented immigrants deemed deportable, ICE didn't have the resources to remove everyone either, Lombardo said. "It makes it easier for them, too."

In fact, Lombardo said, there are thousands of county jails, but only a few dozen agreements between local and federal immigration authorities, because the government doesn't have the resources to mass deport.

©2020 the Las Vegas Sun. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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