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April 23, 2014

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As Strip welcomes costumed characters, Metro guards against real criminals

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Andrea Domanick

A costumed group out celebrating Halloween pauses to observe the Bellagio Fountains, Oct. 31, 2012.

Halloween in Vegas 2012

Zombies menace guests going through the Haunted Alley during Halloween in downtown Las Vegas on Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012. Launch slideshow »

It’s not unusual to spot a costumed character roaming the Las Vegas Strip, hoping to make a few bucks posing with tourists struck by the city’s eccentricities.

But as the number of people in costume has grown for Halloween, police officers — the real ones, not the costumed impostors — keep their antennae up a little higher: Does that ghoulish figure or scantily clad witch have a more sinister motive?

This year, crime on the Strip is up in almost every category.

“You have an event where people dress up,” said Metro Capt. Robert DuVall, who oversees policing of the Las Vegas Strip. “Their hair is a different color; they wear masks. … We certainly have to be vigilant about it.”

The department has been in touch with resort and nightclub security leading up to the festivities and will have its typical “beefed up” weekend police presence beginning today, DuVall said.

Metro’s sexual assault section also will have a full staff of detectives available today, ready for a potential increase in calls due to the Halloween revelry, Lt. Dan McGrath said.

Sex-related crimes on or near the Strip are up 18 percent compared with this time last year, according to Metro crime data. That increase, however, comes after a roughly 30 percent drop in sexual assaults reported last year on the Strip, police said.

This year’s increase is a trend across the tourist corridor, where robberies, homicides, burglaries, thefts and assaults with deadly weapons are also up year-to-date.

Metro attributes the Strip crime increases to an improving economy — meaning more visitors — and fewer boots on the ground.

“I’m not trying to be political here, but we are short of officers,” DuVall said. “We’re still struggling to catch up. We can’t be as many places as we were five years ago.”

That’s where greater cooperation between police and hotel and nightclub security comes into play, especially because of the flourishing nightlife scene, DuVall said.

For instance, police said many security officers at nightclubs are keeping an eye out for intoxicated patrons and intervening when necessary to prevent them from leaving with strangers and becoming crime victims.

“They’re doing a really good job,” DuVall said.

Nightclub operators are notoriously mum about security, but Tao Group, which runs the popular Tao and Marquee nightclubs on the Strip, released this statement acknowledging its efforts to work with law enforcement:

“In order to maintain the effectiveness of our security procedures, we cannot disclose specific practices; however, security is a very important component of our club operations and we regularly evaluate our training and procedures and work with Metro to make certain they meet the highest of standards. We value our relationship with Metro, and by collaborating, we can create the safest environment for our guests.”

As Halloween revelers step out anywhere today on the Strip, police urge them to use common sense and beware of opportunistic criminals, such as women feigning as prostitutes who are committing robberies.

“Don’t ever think it’s the classic pickpocket on the Strip,” DuVall said. “We have people who are very inventive.”

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