When Chris “Sarge” Curtis first started with Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department in 1992, Downtown was a completely different scene.
“There was a lot of street crime and people selling crack and heroin out in the open,” he says. “It was incredibly dangerous. But I always had this goal. I wanted Downtown to become this place that my mother would be able to walk around anytime of day.”
After 25 years, he has gotten his wish, as Downtown businesses continue to boom and crime decreases. According to a recent Metro report, murders are down 63 percent, and sexual assaults and robberies dropped 11 and 10 percent, respectively, compared to this time last year.
“Overall, the area is getting safer,” says Capt. Andrew Walsh, who has been at the Downtown Area Command for about two and a half years. The command covers a 9.6-square-mile area that includes the Las Vegas Arts District and the Fremont East District.
Now a safety expert with Downtown Project, Curtis says it’s no coincidence things began to turn around once economic development increased. There is a theory behind this.
“It’s called crime prevention through environmental design,” he says.
By changing the design of the area by adding new businesses that attract different crowds, Downtown has been transformed. The additional people who now frequent Downtown help provide natural security and maintenance. In regard to tourism, the area welcomes more than 17 million visitors annually, according to Metro.
“When you have a group of well-intentioned people, criminals don’t want to hang around that,” Curtis says.
One specific tool Curtis created to better facilitate this concept was the Downtown Rangers, a group of civilians who patrol the area and focus on building relationships and maintaining the streets.
Walsh agrees economic development has helped, but adds that Metro has doubled down on community partnership.
“You know that saying that if someone commits a crime, everyone knows who did it except the police?” he says. “People didn’t have confidence in the police, so we had to work to change that.” He says it’s those strong ties that have aided law enforcement in their efforts to decrease crime.
The changes to the area have also led to connectivity and walkability. According to Walk Score, which tracks national walkability rates, Downtown has a walk score of 75, while the general Las Vegas area has 41.
All in all, things have changed.