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July 25, 2014

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Q&A with Metro Police Capt. Shawn Andersen:

Downtown’s top cop takes a look at how crime’s changing with area’s renaissance

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Steve Marcus

Metro Police Capt. Shawn Andersen poses at the Downtown Area Command on Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013.

Meet Metro Police Capt. Shawn Andersen.

For the past nine months, he has been the guy in charge of police downtown, which includes the ever-popular and growing bar scene.

This spring, East Fremont Street welcomed several new hangouts, and later this year completion of the Downtown Container Park will add more choices to the mix. Police estimate downtown events and bars draw thousands more people to the area — with a palpable increase in just the past six months.

Downtown’s renaissance has sparked excitement along with safety fears, propelling police and city leaders to look for solutions.

The Sun sat down with Andersen earlier this week to get his take on downtown’s growth and what it means for crime.

Downtown, particularly the East Fremont bar scene, has created a lot of buzz this year. One issue has been safety. How do you think that stands now?

I think it is a work in progress. Every week it feels like we’re meeting with people and trying to find that sweet spot in making things safe but still making them enjoyable. There’s a balance to be had there. We can make it very, very safe, and we can also make it the result of people just not being able to come down here very easily.

What efforts to boost safety have worked on East Fremont?

The last First Friday, we put up some pedestrian rails and set up a couple entry and exit points. It worked real well and we had no problems at all.

The feedback we got from the community was that, while they appreciated the effort and they were real glad it was a safe environment, it was just too much for them to see 10, 13 police cars in the general area.

Now that we have a pretty good feel that the barricade situation — those checkpoints — will be effective, we shouldn’t have to have as many staff there.

So what kind of safety measures should people expect to see tonight on Fremont?

They’ll see something probably about the same they saw last time. They’ll see pedestrian rails up again, some entry and exit points, some officers around those entry and exit points and a couple police cars in the area.

With the increased popularity of East Fremont and, thus, bigger crowds, what are the crime concerns?

What we struggle with — and the issues we’ve had this calendar year so far — are assaults with deadly weapons and batteries with deadly weapons. We’ve seen a pretty marked increase in those. I think we’re still at 20 percent above what we were at this time last year. We’re up higher than the rest of the valley.

How much does underage drinking play a role in these other crimes?

It’s all interrelated. It’s very difficult to separate things into their own avenues. The more alcohol you have flowing from a particular area, the higher the levels of violence you’re going to have. And that’s all kinds of violence, from sexual assaults to battery domestic violence to stabbings, shootings, beatings.

Younger folks are more oftentimes victims of violence and more oftentimes suspects of violent activity. You’ve got young people, you have a lot of alcohol and you have an environment that is difficult to control. All of those things work together to cause an environment that at times can be dangerous.

Lots of cities have downtown bar districts, though. What makes East Fremont any different?

If you go to the majority of these bar districts, like LoDo in Denver … you don’t see people wandering around with bottles of vodka in their hands or bottles of beer. You don’t. You drink it in the bar and when you’re done with it, you put it in the trash can inside the bar and walk out empty-handed. They do have rules. They’re pretty strict, and one of them is you just can’t possess alcohol on the street.

We have a law down here that is cumbersome to enforce. It depends on where you got it from, how you got it, when you go it — so it’s not as clear cut. It’s very difficult. Ideally, what you want to have is a rule that says you can’t have booze outside a controlled environment. And the middle of the street is not one of those things.

But …

We’re still Las Vegas. Part of this culture and part of this thing that is "Vegas" has been people coming here for 35 or 40 years, and for 35 or 40 years, they’ve been taking that Coors Light out of the casino and walking down the (street) to the next casino. How do you unprogram that type of behavior? And is that the right thing to do? These are things that we have to come to a quick understanding about.

With more people living, working and playing downtown, how will crime evolve and what challenges does that pose?

A significant portion of the crime down here must have been driven by prostitution and narcotics. I think over the course of the next year, you’ll see those numbers decrease and you’ll get back into property crimes. I think we’ll see an increase of property crimes because there will be more things of value down here to take.

We’ll see people down here for longer periods of time and more people down here. And just to be blunt, I’ve got far fewer people than I did in 2010. In 2010, there I think were 147 officers working here. Right now I have 127.

Perhaps the most-talked-about Las Vegas event this year is the Life is Beautiful Festival, set for Oct. 26 and 27 downtown. Are you nervous?

We have spent and the city has spent a tremendous amount of time planning for this. I think pretty much every contingency has been talked about and mapped out — and probable solutions to those bad things that might happen handled and solved.

I’m confident with the plans that are in place, and I think it will be a success. I anticipate that next year it will be bigger, and the year after that, bigger, and the year after that, bigger.

That is a pretty impressive lineup of people they’re bringing here. It’s really exceptional.

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