January 27, 2022 - 10:10 am
Three extended-stay motels pulse with activity on a short stretch of Boulder Highway. Las Vegas police know the area well.
Officers recorded roughly 44,000 service calls and patrols at Siena Suites, The Suites and Sportsman’s Royal Manor in the past five years, according to a Review-Journal analysis of Metropolitan Police Department data.
Police activity at the motels outpaced that at almost every other private business in Metro’s jurisdiction, including the Las Vegas Strip’s largest casino-resorts, which can see tens of thousands of customers in a single week.
More than 30,000 of the visits were logged as officer-initiated patrols — part of an effort to prevent crime known in law enforcement as “hot spot policing.” That’s more than one-fourth of all patrols Metro recorded at the hundreds of motels and apartments in its jurisdiction, despite each of the three motels having on-site security.
Over a week in late October, Metro police were called to Siena Suites to investigate a reported burglary, recover a stolen vehicle and resolve domestic disturbances, records show. They conducted multiple patrols outside the sprawling property’s three-story buildings, as one young couple with an infant son and a baby girl on the way watched from the window of their first-floor rental.
Imani Jones said she and her pregnant fiancée Montrese Fletcher moved to the 600-unit property in July to escape homelessness. The couple thought they had found a home to raise their children.
But they said they changed their mind after only a few weeks. Their unit had roaches, appliances broke and outside was not much better, they said.
“It’s just a lot of people on drugs, a lot of cops,” Jones said. “You have to sit inside your house pretty much all day just to feel safe.”
Law enforcement experts outside Nevada said the analysis shows the three Boulder Highway motels have dominated police resources since 2017. Among Southern Nevada’s largest housing complexes, the businesses have more than 2,000 units combined.
However, during the five-year span, only one motel — Sportsman’s — saw a dramatic drop in calls, raising questions about how successful a heightened police presence has been at lowering crime.
“Aren’t you essentially expecting the police to be the private security guard at places that have a lot of crime?” asked Michael Scott, head of Arizona State University’s Center for Problem-Oriented Policing. “The costs are being shifted from the company … to the public, for what arguably is a business interest.”
Instead, officials should use sanctions to force motel operators to improve security, the experts urged — a tactic that has proved effective both in other cities and at Sportsman’s. Clark County and the City of Las Vegas have each used nuisance laws to threaten just one motel or apartment business license over crime problems since 2017, records show.
Sitting in roughly a three-mile span along Boulder Highway, each motel has more than a dozen three-story buildings connected by roads and footpaths, forming small communities that can hold over a thousand residents each. During the day, residents ranging from retirement-aged adults to young children can be seen walking the motels’ grounds. At night, floodlights illuminate parking lots densely filled with cars.
Metro Capt. Reggie Rader, who oversees police operations in the area, said crime-fighting strategies are working and the motels weren’t consuming an outsized amount of police resources.
He pointed to a substantial drop in robberies, assaults and murders across the agency’s Southeast Area Command last year, including fewer calls reporting violent crime at Siena Suites, The Suites and Sportsman’s. His command covers a 40-square-mile region that is home to about 188,000 people.
“When people call and they say they need help from the police, we’re going to go,” Rader said. “And that’s how we strategize our deployments and where we’re going to put our resources.”
Hot spot policing comes with cost
Hot spot policing can, at least temporarily, significantly reduce both crimes and calls for service at high-activity locations, studies have shown.
But this type of policing can be costly to taxpayers and hard to sustain, the experts said.
In 2019 alone, for example, Metro officers logged more than 11,000 self-assigned patrols at the three motels, an average of over 30 patrols every day.
Metro data does not show the length of the patrols, but if each lasted 10 to 15 minutes — a hot spot policing standard — then they would have consumed somewhere between 1,800 and 2,900 man hours. The minimum cost to taxpayers would have been between $50,000 and $78,000 in officer salary.
And that estimate doesn’t include the additional time that police spent responding to the thousands of calls at the motels that year.
Combined, the motels paid close to $570,000 in property tax that fiscal year, county records show. About $55,000 of that was directly earmarked for Metro and emergency dispatch services.
Even more costly than the salaries, is the lost opportunity to deter crime at other locations, Scott said. The vast majority of apartments and motels in Metro’s jurisdiction received fewer than a dozen patrols last year.
“We’re all entitled to our share,” he said of police service. “But we’re not entitled to everybody else’s share as well.”
Boulder Highway long known for crime issues
Boulder Highway has long been known for having issues with crime, in part due to its high concentration of extended-stay motels, said Kathy Cassell, a retired Metro crime-prevention specialist who spent more than 30 years at the department.
The busy thoroughfare, connecting downtown Las Vegas to Henderson, is dotted with casinos, payday loan businesses and other temporary lodging. Heavy foot traffic up and down the six-lane highway has made it one of the deadliest places for pedestrians in Nevada. More than 30 homicides have occurred either along the highway or in nearby neighborhoods since 2017.
Extended-stay motels are a haven for disadvantaged people who struggle to rent traditional apartments. They typically include furniture, don’t require large security deposits and allow renters to pay by the week without entering a long-term lease or having to sign up for utilities.
These same qualities can make them attractive to criminals, Cassell said.
“(Criminals) will congregate where it’s easy for them to be close to the targets that they want to victimize,” she said. “And where they can stay for a short time, and where they’re not asked a lot of questions, and they can rent and they can leave, and they can come and go.”
Over the years, Sportsman’s Royal Manor had become known to police for prostitution, gang activity and violent crime.
Metro now considers it to be a model success story, Rader said.
Calls to police fell from more than 1,400 in 2017 to fewer than 500 last year. There’s also been a drop in violent crime at the 665-unit complex, Rader said.
The dramatic shift began after Clark County designated Sportsman’s as a chronic nuisance and threatened to shut it down following the high-profile murder of a Nevada National Guard member in May 2014. Metro doubled down on the county’s efforts in early 2017 and threatened to seize the property.
Rader said police then spent the better part of a year patrolling the complex every two hours. But Sportsman’s was also made to help shoulder the burden of reducing crime.
It became the first and only extended-stay motel to complete Metro’s crime-free multihousing program.
Sportsman’s owners have also heavily invested in improving security, executive manager Erin Ben-Samochan said. They fenced the property’s perimeter, installed dozens of security cameras and are outfitting the parking lot’s entrances and exits with automated license plate readers.
All prospective tenants are now subject to a criminal background check, and all guests must check in at the front desk. Security guards are instructed to speak with anyone they see walking the property.
Police now patrol the property far less often — dropping from a high of more than 4,000 times in 2019 to less than 300 last year.
“We’re just going to keep working on it and keep investing in it,” Ben-Samochan said. “It was a lot of capital, and it is worth it. It’s definitely worth it.”
Can motel owners be held accountable?
The policing experts said Sportsman’s serves as an example of what can be achieved when law enforcement and government officials apply tough methods to leverage change at motels.
“If you don’t have teeth, and you don’t have the ability to do something or hold them accountable in any way, then it doesn’t do any good. They’ll nod their head and move on,” said Scott Clinger, a retired police officer who was recognized by the U.S. Attorney General in 2016 for his work reducing crime at motels in Columbus, Ohio.
Clinger’s city is one of a growing number that have established clear limits on how many police calls a motel can generate in a year before its business license is challenged. The strategy has helped lower crime across the motel industry, rather than just at locations where police are currently concentrating resources, he said.
But in Southern Nevada, county and city officials rarely use nuisance laws against extended-stay motels. Neither government has defined what constitutes an excessive amount of police activity — a step Clinger said was pivotal to success in Ohio.
In July 2019, Clark County commissioners tabled a proposal to team up police, fire prevention and code enforcement officials to identify and cite problem properties. Those that didn’t come into compliance would face civil action from the district attorney’s office.
Commissioner Tick Segerblom said he wants to revive the plan. He sees the proposal being a natural extension of the county’s existing operations.
“We go in and do all these things (with citations), but we never go to court,” he said. “This would be a hammer.”
Commissioner Jim Gibson, whose district includes the Boulder Highway motels, said business owners have “ultimate responsibility” for keeping crime low at their properties.
However, he said local officials’ current crime reduction strategies allow varying approaches to properties with different problems.
“I’m in favor of tackling these the way we’ve been doing it for now,” he said. “The number of patrols or calls for service are reflective of something. They’re not necessarily reflective of the same fundamental problem.”
And while Metro would like more motels to participate in the crime-free housing program, Rader said he doesn’t believe the department should force their cooperation.
The police captain said that although Siena Suites and The Suites each generated more than 800 calls for service last year — about double that of Sportsman’s — they aren’t experiencing as much violent crime as Sportsman’s was a few years ago.
“A lot of the calls we get at those locations might not even be crime-oriented,” he said. “They’re more nuisance-oriented or problems with neighbors.”
But even non-emergency calls can still consume large amounts of officers’ time, Scott and Clinger said. Disturbances reported at Siena Suites and The Suites, which Metro records show rarely ended with an arrest, can be handled by private security and without cost to taxpayers, they said.
At Sportsman’s, Trinity Security has implemented a process to handle trespassers without involving law enforcement, security director Earl White said. The issue was frequently bringing police to the property and could take as long as 30 minutes for an officer to handle.
“We know that takes resources from the police department,” he said. “One of the residual effects for that is you have police able to use their resources in different areas in that community other than coming to Sportsman’s like they used to do.”
For now, Rader said Metro is focused on partnering with nonprofits to alleviate poverty at the motels, and passing along residents’ security concerns to managers at monthly meetings. In September, Siena Suites submitted an application to fence more of its property’s perimeter.
Metro also screens the motels’ prospective tenants for outstanding warrants.
“The barometer for any good police department, definitely for us here in Vegas Metro, is: ‘Are we having an impact on violent crime?’ ” Rader said. “And we are.”
California-owned properties have high numbers
Motels that share ownership and management often see similar crime problems, the policing experts said.
Last year, four of the five motels and apartments that generated the most calls for service to Metro could be traced to California real-estate investors George and Joseph Daneshgar.
Companies managed by the Daneshgars have spent hundreds of millions since 2010 to purchase Las Vegas shopping centers, luxury condominiums and apartment complexes. Last month, the owners of Tivoli Village announced that the Daneshgars’ real estate firm 3D Investments had reached a deal to buy the retail-and-office complex near Summerlin for $216 million.
In 2018 and 2019, the Daneshgars’ companies purchased extended-stay motels Siena Suites, Harbor Island Apartments, Shelter Island Apartments and Emerald Suites Convention Center. In 2021, more than 400 calls sending police to the properties were connected to violent crime investigations, including eight shootings, Metro records show.
One evening last April, a man drove an SUV into a Siena Suites building and fired a gun at the motel, according to his arrest report. Security did not alert police, the report stated.
At Harbor Island last January, a resident shot and killed his neighbor and another man who owed him money and drugs, according to police. Two months later a man was shot to death in his car at Emerald Suites Convention Center, police reported.
How we reported this story
The Review-Journal sought to determine where Metropolitan Police Department officers were most frequently dispatched in the past five years.
Every day, the department published reports tracking where officers are patrolling and responding to calls for service. The records indicate where officers are sent and why they are headed there.
The newspaper compiled data from thousands of these reports from January 2017 through December 2021. From there, reporters narrowed their focus to calls and patrols assigned to specific street addresses, which could be connected to businesses and residences.
The records showed that, outside of police facilities and Harry Reid International Airport, Metro officers were most frequently at extended-stay motels. Three were located in close proximity on Boulder Highway.
The newspaper’s analysis focused on Las Vegas Valley properties in Metro’s jurisdiction and which the Clark County Assessor’s Office had categorized as either a motel or an apartment with five or more units as of January 2022.
Reporters analyzed both how many proactive patrols Metro officers were conducting at the properties each year, and how often calls from citizens summoned them there.
The analysis was conducted in consultation with Karin Schmerler, a former U.S. Department of Justice official and nationally recognized police analyst. Calls from citizens and officer-initiated patrols were analyzed as two separate categories of calls. Some types of calls, such as those about traffic violations, were excluded from the analysis.
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Shelter Island was sold in November 2021.
George and Joseph Daneshgar did not respond to multiple interview requests. Employees at 3D Investments declined an interview but provided a two-sentence statement.
“We care for the livelihood and safety of our residents. In order to mitigate crime, we have implemented stringent application measures, deployed resources towards increased security, made significant property improvements, and participated in community outreach programs to help families who have been affected by COVID,” wrote Beatriz Godoy, who declined to elaborate.
Each of the properties has Metro check prospective tenants for active warrants and several had visible security cameras. But the frequent need for police indicates government officials should require the motels to do even more to prevent crime and handle nuisances, said Clinger, the retired Ohio police officer.
His city tracks how many police and fire calls a motel generates each year and divides that number by how many rooms it rents. Any motel with more than 1.2 calls-per-room risks losing its business license.
Last year, each of the four motels and apartments had a rate between 1.47 and 1.96 police calls-per-room, according to the Review-Journal’s analysis, which did not include fire department calls.
“That’s as bad as I’ve seen,” Clinger said. “You’re taking all that (police) resource away from the other people who need it too.”
In September, Metro and County Commissioner Gibson met with 3D Investments to raise concerns about violent crime at Harbor Island. The complex, located between the Strip and UNLV, received almost 1,300 patrols last year, more than any other apartment or motel.
Police presented a list of recommendations that included more thorough background checks, more surveillance cameras and a minimum of five security staff working every shift. Earlier this month, a security guard was stationed at the complex’s sole entrance, checking the identification of every driver who came inside the 997-unit complex.
Officials are prepared to declare Harbor Island a nuisance if conditions don’t improve, a Metro spokesman said.
“You can’t turn a project like this around any more easily than you can turn an aircraft carrier around in San Diego Bay,” Gibson said. “But you can make decisions and implement policy immediately.”
Contact Michael Scott Davidson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3861. Davidson is a member of the Review-Journal’s investigative team, focusing on reporting that holds leaders and agencies accountable and exposes wrongdoing. Follow @davidsonlvrj on Twitter.