Is Carson City still safe?

BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Carson City Sheriff's deputies Dan Ochsenschlager, left, K-9 Unit, and Sal Acosta attempt to test a suspect's alcohol level with a Breathalyzer at AM/PM on Carson Street Thursday. While Carson City's population continues to climb, the occurrences of crime in the city over the past decade shows a mixed bag, with no rate of any particular crime rising every year in the past decade.

BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Carson City Sheriff's deputies Dan Ochsenschlager, left, K-9 Unit, and Sal Acosta attempt to test a suspect's alcohol level with a Breathalyzer at AM/PM on Carson Street Thursday. While Carson City's population continues to climb, the occurrences of crime in the city over the past decade shows a mixed bag, with no rate of any particular crime rising every year in the past decade.

Carson City has more gangs, more graffiti and less cooperation from people involved with these problems than ever before, according to city officials.

For the first time, a Secret Witness chapter has even been set up to allow anonymous tips.

But despite the city's increasing knowledge - and sometimes fear - of gangs, crime rates in Carson City have been falling for more than a decade, according to statistics kept by the state.

Since the Nevada Department of Public Safety began collecting crime statistics in 1994, the number of rapes, burglaries and larcenies in the city have fallen, and the number of murders, robberies, assaults and vehicle thefts have been steady.

The city also grew about 14,000 people from 1994 to the time of the most recent report in 2006.

Preliminary reports show that 2007 will also be similar to the year before, according to the city sheriff's department. Those preliminary reports show, however, that crime is up about 10 percent in the first quarter of this year compared to the same time in 2007.

Specific gang activity, excluding graffiti, has been stable over the last five years - the period during which city officials agree the size of gangs has exploded. A report from a city public safety committee showed that gang-related fights, shots fired and attempted homicides were steady from 2003 to 2007, though graffiti did nearly triple.

But no gang activity, said Sheriff Kenny Furlong, is acceptable and it's important to fight the problem while its still manageable.

To keep the city safe, officers need to track gang members, operate special gang stings and convince voters to approve an initiative that would fund a full-time gang unit, Furlong said, but, as he also pointed out, the vast majority of calls officers get are for routine checks, domestic disputes and public intoxication.

"We live in a safe town," Furlong said, "and we want to keep it that way."

But this requires dedication from law enforcement and the rest of the city, he said, since the city is "at a crossroads" with its gang problem.

He said where the sheriff's department and other city leaders have already had success is in educating the community about gangs. This has helped him fight gangs, he said, but not everyone has kept the situation in perspective.

"The higher sense of awareness can also lead to a higher sense of insecurity," he said.

Targeting gang members now is important, said District Attorney Neil Rombardo, because gang crime "is still at a level where it can be stopped."

"We're being proactive on an issue that's still at a size where we can defeat it," he said. "We don't want to turn into a mini L.A. or a mini Detroit."

Enforcement is sometimes difficult, though, he said, because gang members usually won't testify in court against each other.

Both Rombardo and Chief Probation Officer John Simms said gang members also often won't report to police if they were attacked by rival gang members, so the amount of gang crime is sometimes hard to determine.

Most juvenile gang members Simms sees are arrested for battery or property destruction such as graffiti or breaking windows.

Graffiti has increased "immensely" over the past few years, said Claudia Saavedra, city community service coordinator, but police enforcement and an alternative sentencing program that cleans up graffiti might be helping to curb that.

But slowing graffiti isn't enough, Furlong said, and the city needs to drive gangs away permanently.

"Anything less than eradication is tolerance," he said.

• Contact reporter Dave Frank at dfrank@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1212.

Crime in Carson City

Population Murder Rape Robbery Assault Burglary Larceny Vehicle Theft Arson

2006 57,701 3 2 22 169 291 819 137 11

2005 57,104 2 2 27 263 386 948 115 19

2004 56,146 1 0 24 268 374 1,076 214 15

2003 56,220 0 1 24 240 430 1,215 163 15

2002 54,844 1 29 32 242 394 1,233 143 17

2001 54,171 0 31 36 243 391 1,235 109 19

2000 53,095 0 17 23 167 422 1,039 99 25

1999 52,620 0 15 13 178 325 1,013 65 7

1998 51,850 3 22 16 170 357 1,170 83 7

1997 50,410 0 30 25 192 361 1,210 112 0

1996 48,860 0 11 25 184 373 1,120 89 4

1995 46,770 1 21 31 224 445 1,427 95 7

1994 43,460 1 27 19 193 416 1,427 116 11

Source: Nevada Department of Public Safety

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