LAS VEGAS » The Las Vegas Strip, with its fatal bar brawls, sticky sidewalks and pushy panhandlers, is in dire need of a public safety makeover, according to casino executives and government leaders who want to use surveillance cameras, an increased police presence and regular street cleanings to improve the image of Nevada’s adult playground.
In all, eight executives representing Las Vegas’ wealthiest casinos put forward 32 recommendations this week aimed at preserving the Strip for the millions of tourists who support Nevada’s fragile economy. Government leaders called for the recommendations last year after a rash of alcohol-fueled killings and violent crimes raised public safety concerns.
"We spend millions of taxpayers’ dollars on advertising, keeping the Strip clean, doing our best to become one of the world’s biggest attractions because of the beautiful resorts that we have here," said Clark County Commissioner Lawrence Weekly. "And when people do their homework and their research on Las Vegas, we put pretty pictures out there, and we don’t want someone’s vision of what they believe Las Vegas to be, this beautiful mirage in the desert, to turn into ‘Nightmare on Elm Street.’"
More than 38.9 million tourists visited Las Vegas last year, and the dollars they spent are driving Nevada’s long awaited economic recovery. The state has the highest unemployment rate in the nation at 12.7 percent, and most jobs are tied to the tourism industry in some way.
Under the policy plan, government officials would direct more police officers to the Strip, set up surveillance cameras to monitor suspicious activity, ban unlicensed vendors, and regularly power-wash the grime and alcohol left behind on Las Vegas’ bustling tourist corridors after nights of uninhibited revelry. The most controversial proposal calls for restricting activities such as panhandling at certain times and locations along the Strip.
"There is some concern that if we are not able to do these things … that ultimately we run the risk of it impacting our tourism base and ultimately limiting our ability to expand our tourism base as we begin to rebound as a community," said Don Burnette, manager for Clark County, the government that oversees the Strip.
Free speech activists say, however, that civil rights trump economic concerns.
Dane Claussen, director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Nevada, said free speech on public sidewalks is protected under the Constitution. The organization could take legal action against the county depending on how any new policies are crafted, he said.
"We don’t sacrifice the First Amendment for the sake of maintaining tourism," Claussen said.
Las Vegas police already use traffic cameras installed at various intersections to monitor criminal activity. An expanded surveillance program would allow police to respond to crimes more quickly and effectively, Burnette said.
"It’s not for intelligence gathering but it’s to help get a better understanding of what’s going on," he said. "People conjure up images of Big Brother, and that’s not what it is about."
The proposals were drafted during 13 meetings spread out over six months. Among the Las Vegas power players backing the recommendations are executives from Las Vegas Sands Corp., Wynn Resorts Ltd., MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment Corp. and Boyd Gaming Corp.
The Clark County Commission is slated to discuss the recommendations next week. Local governments and casino officials will likely be asked to contribute to the costs of hiring more police officers and installing the cameras.
"You have to pay to play," Weekly said. "We’ve got to send a message out that this is not ‘Animal House.’"