LAS VEGAS (AP) — Homicide investigations rose by more than 33% in Las Vegas and surrounding Clark County in 2020, according to a newspaper year-end analysis.
Area law enforcement agencies investigated the killings of 195 people last year, up from 149, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported .
Las Vegas police homicide Lt. Ray Spencer said there were more self-defense shootings and domestic violence homicides compared with 2019. He said he believed COVID-19 lockdowns, stress and general uncertainty in 2020 must have played a role.
“I don’t know if the pandemic is the cause," Spencer told the newspaper, "but common sense just tells me that you have people that are cooped up in their house, and you have kids at home, you have people that aren’t working, it’s got to have some effect on some of our crime numbers."
A number of juveniles also were accused of killing people during a time when teenagers normally would have been in schools that were shuttered during the coronavirus pandemic.
A few cases stood out, Spencer said, including in November a father accused of throwing his infant daughter from a balcony and a mother charged with killing her two children.
North Las Vegas Police Department spokesman Alex Cuevas said the pandemic has helped detectives locate suspects.
“A lot of people are staying home, and it’s easier to find where people are staying,” Cuevas said.
Of the homicides in the region, 136 involved shootings, 22 stabbings, 21 attacks with blunt objects and 16 other acts of violence. Some 2019 deaths weren’t ruled homicides until last year. One case involved a 20-year-old man whose body was found in 2004, but wasn’t identified until July.
The Review-Journal also included the deaths of two women who died in California from injuries suffered during the October 2017 mass shooting that killed 58 people on the Las Vegas Strip.
The region in 2019 had experienced the most drastic drop in homicide investigations in at least a decade.
In 2020, North Las Vegas police investigated 26 killings, and Henderson police investigated 16 homicides, four more than the previous year.
Four Henderson deaths came in November, when 38-year-old Jason Bourne fatally shot two women and took a 12-year-old boy hostage in his car, prompting officers to shoot at the vehicle. Bourne and the boy, Joseph Hawatmeh, were killed.
Las Vegas police investigated 76% of all Clark County homicides. The department had eight cases where investigators had not identified a suspect, according to the Review-Journal analysis.
By Dec. 31, the solvability rate was 92.6%, which Spencer called a “gold standard” compared with similar agencies in the U.S.
Nationally, the FBI reported a 61.4% clearance rate for murders and non-negligent manslaughters in 2019, according to the Pew Research Center.
“Other agencies put budget over the solve rate, or solving a crime,” Spencer said. “They’re not working around the clock to solve cases, where the leadership at this department has stressed that we’ll do whatever it takes to solve a murder.”
But no matter how good the percentages are, Spencer said unsolved cases “keep you up at night.”
He spoke of the possible road rage killing of 37-year-old Kamiah Bird in September on Interstate 15 near Flamingo Road and the discovery that same month of the body of Lesly Palacio, 22, in the desert near Valley of Fire State Park.
“You have a truly innocent victim driving down the freeway, and she is shot driving home from work — which appears to be completely unprovoked,” Spencer said of the Bird case. No suspect has been identified.
Police have identified 25-year-old Erick Rangel-Ibarra and his father, 45-year-old Jose Rangel, as suspects in Palacio’s slaying. They have not been found.