Friday, March 27, 2020 / by Ken Couture
Clark County’s sheriff and district attorney offered assurances Wednesday that the criminal justice system is continuing to protect the community during the coronavirus pandemic.
“This is a difficult and unsettling time,” Sheriff Joe Lombardo said during a news conference. “That said, it is not time to panic. Let me assure you: Southern Nevada is safe.”
The conference was held virtually, and news media were directed to ask questions through email to comply with Gov. Steve Sisolak’s order banning public gatherings of 10 people or more.
Lombardo and District Attorney Steve Wolfson addressed a wide range of questions that included such topics as enforcement of Sisolak’s emergency orders, court proceedings and crime rates in Southern Nevada.
Crime not significantly changed
“As I speak, there has been no significant changes in what we are seeing reference to crime,” Lombardo said. “A couple of areas are slightly up, and a couple areas are slightly down.”
He said calls for service have decreased by about 5 percent during the pandemic’s wave in Southern Nevada. He also said property crimes do not appear to be increasing.
Regarding concerns about domestic violence increasing while more people are staying home, the sheriff said total aggravated assaults, which include domestic violence, are up 3 percent.
“But the data is still too fresh for us to make a determination,” he said.
Metro on Saturday began “compliance checks” of businesses deemed nonessential that have remained open despite Sisolak’s order to close. If officers find a nonessential business that is open, police are giving business owners or managers copies of the governor’s order and a letter from Metro.
Citations are issued if businesses do not comply, and Wolfson said Wednesday that in “extreme cases,” business that ignore warnings could face criminal charges.
Lombardo said Metro has received 181 reports of businesses remaining open, and the department has served 41 “letters of notice.” Seven businesses have had their licenses suspended, and officers have issued four citations.
According to a statement Wednesday evening from Clark County spokesman Dan Kulin, the county’s Business License Department has visited 96 locations, issued 15 emergency suspensions and issued four citations for operating without a business license.
It was not clear to what degree the figures reported by the county and Metro overlapped, but Kulin said Tuesday that they did to some extent.
The city of Las Vegas announced on Monday that it will prosecute nonessential businesses that do not close as public nuisances.
Lombardo also said his officers will enforce the governor’s order banning gatherings of 10 people or more but added that the department must prioritize calls for service.
The sheriff said officers have been providing additional security for businesses that have experienced a rush of customers seeking cleaning supplies, hygiene products and food, and the department continues to monitor potential crime trends.
‘System is still running’
Wolfson issued a warning for anyone looking to take advantage of the pandemic by committing a crime and promised to give any such cases “special attention.”
He pointed out that police are still making arrests, and people are still going to jail.
“Even though the courts are closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the criminal justice system is still running,” the district attorney said.
To curb the spread of the virus, Lombardo said his officers are “utilizing discretion” when it comes to arresting people suspected of misdemeanor crimes, with the exception of DUIs and domestic violence. He said the department has stopped arresting people on traffic bench warrants or child support warrants.
Wolfson said that because of the pandemic, the district attorney’s office is operating at a “skeleton level,” and employees have had to reprioritize their workload. He said there has been a delay in processing low-level offenses, but the office is still focusing on prosecuting high-priority crimes of violence.
Lombardo said Metro has not experienced any “staffing issues” from the health crisis, and officers have a sufficient supply of personal protective equipment for at least 60 days because of donations.
As of Wednesday, there were 28 Metro employees self-quarantined at home out of “an abundance of caution” because of their travel history or potential exposure to the coronavirus, Lombardo said. There are no reported cases of the new coronavirus within the department, he said.
On March 19, Metro said that 48 of its employees had reported “workplace exposure” amid the coronavirus pandemic. It was unclear Wednesday how many of those employees, if any, were self-quarantining.
Lombardo and Wolfson emphasized that agencies are working together to address the pandemic and that the public should continue following restrictions until life returns to normal.
“We’re available. We haven’t diminished our resources, and I anticipate we’ll have full ability to respond in a time of need,” Lombardo said. “But I ask the public to exercise patience, and we will get through this.”
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