If You Shoot (But Don’t Kill) Someone in Las Vegas, You’ll Probably Get Away with It

A blog about murder, theft, and other wickedness.
June 20 2013 1:18 PM

If You Shoot (But Don’t Kill) Someone in Las Vegas, You’ll Probably Get Away with It

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Las Vegas

Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images for Visitlasvegas.com

Crime is Slate’s crime blog. Like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter @slatecrime.

The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department is very good at solving murders. Its homicide arrest rate over the past few years sits around 75 percent, which is about 10 percentage points higher than the national average for similarly sized police departments. But when the intended victim is wounded, not killed, the department’s efficiency rate plummets. As J. Patrick Coolican reported this week in the Las Vegas Sun, since 2010, 93 percent of nonlethal shootings in Las Vegas have gone unsolved. For non-firearm-related attacks, the statistics are almost as bad: Eighty-six percent of cases involving knives, bats, and the like have gone unsolved.

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Those rates are pathetic. A 9-year-old with a magnifying glass and a toy fingerprint kit could probably do better than the Las Vegas Metro PD. I guess it’s possible that all of these unsolved crimes were committed by master criminals who left nary a shell casing in their wake. But it’s more likely that these cases aren’t being solved because the cops aren’t trying to solve them.

As Coolican notes, budget problems in Las Vegas have led to significant police staffing cuts. Five hundred and six Metro PD jobs have been eliminated. The remaining cops have had to ration their resources, and the evidence suggests that murder cases get top priority, while mere nonlethal stabbings or shootings get pushed to the side. A police department spokesman told Coolican as much: “We would love to have the resources to investigate with the intensity we do with homicide. In this economic environment, we simply don't have those resources.”

This isn’t just a Las Vegas issue. Over the past few years, police departments around the country have struggled to adjust to budget shortfalls and the subsequent loss of manpower. From Chicago to Cleveland to Baltimore and beyond, big-city police departments have been forced to do more with less. When you’re short-staffed, the immediate instinct is to focus your attention on only the most serious crimes, as Chicago is doing by flooding 20 high-crime “impact zones” with police officers pulling overtime pay.

It’s hard to fault that strategy—police departments have got to make tough choices—but I’m not going to praise it. As Coolican notes, these nonfatal attacks are homicides waiting to happen. Most of the time, the victims survive because their assailants are sloppy, or have bad aim. They might not miss the next time around, though. Allocating a few more resources to investigating and closing out these nonlethal cases could go a long way toward preventing more homicides. And if there were fewer homicides, there’d be more police resources to go around.

Justin Peters is a writer for Slate. He is working on a book about Aaron Swartz, copyright, and the rise of “free culture.” Email him at justintrevett@fastmail.fm.