How Las Vegas police helped a blighted area rise from the ashes
Enforcement, education and outreach were key in reducing drug trafficking, gang activity and prostitution at an apartment complex
By Deputy Chief James Seebock and Captain Reggie Rader
From 2015 through 2017, there were more than 100 calls for service every month at the Sportsman’s Royal Manor. The area located in the southeast area of Las Vegas is known as “John 4” and became synonymous with crime and decay.
The stately name of the building belied the fact that the 665-unit weekly apartment complex was known for drug trafficking, gang activity and prostitution. It was one of the largest draws on police resources for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) Southeast Area Command (SEAC). Police frequently received calls for violent shootings, stabbings, or robberies. The traditional tactics to address the crime were failing. Something needed to change.
The three weapons LVMPD used to fight blight were enforcement, education and outreach. SEAC leaders began to map out their strategy by first walking the property at all hours to get a picture of the types of problems that were occurring. Officers conducted resident surveys and analyzed crime data. The plan to help the struggling property was dubbed the “Phoenix Zone,” to signal the area’s rebirth and rise from the ashes.
The key to success would be getting the police, community and apartment management to work together. Officers spent years building a network of community partners to combat the underlying causes of crime. But, before the project began, there was no cohesive plan or strategy between the three stakeholders that could be maintained.
Police needed a way to keep everyone motivated, give complex owners a vested interest in the project and demonstrate that LVMPD would be there for the community over the long term.
It was essential to get the property owner on board for the project to be effective. The owner, who could make decisions and changes regarding the property, was receiving inaccurate information from the property manager about the issues and crime happening at the complex. The county was able to designate the property as a chronic nuisance, enabling law enforcement to serve legal warnings and hasten an in-person meeting with the property owner.
However, working through the county’s chronic nuisance process was not enough to bring the needed changes to the complex. Therefore, a new tactic was implemented. LVMPD used narcotic seizure laws to encourage the owner to act. Since many of the search warrants served at the complex were narcotics-related and tenants used narcotic proceeds to pay their rent, at times in cash, the police department’s legal staff was able to reason that the complex was benefiting and profiting from narcotics sales, making the complex subject to forfeiture or seizure. The possibility of legal action that could subject the complex to being seized, coupled with the potential business license loss through the chronic nuisance process, brought the owner of the complex to the table, along with a willingness to address concerns.
LVMPD educated the owner, management and residents about how to boost security on the property. Statistical information, resident quality of life survey results, and stories from officers and community members were shared with the property owner who then became a vested partner in the solution. SEAC’s Crime Prevention Specialist inspected the property and found that management failed to screen incoming residents and that the property’s multiple entrances and exits allowed non-residents to routinely walk through the complex. As a result, new management and security were hired and internal policies and procedures were revamped.
Another major turning point occurred when the complex hired a new security company that implemented a stringent tenant screening process. Security guards interacted seamlessly with the residents. They quickly learned who resided there and who did not. Any visitor to the property had to be a registered guest. Residents were now responsible for anyone they allowed to stay with them.
Subleasing units had been a problem but ceased when security implemented a mandatory visit and inspection after a new tenant rented a room. Criminals no longer felt comfortable to come and go as they pleased. Empowered residents felt comfortable reporting issues to security or the police and SEAC leadership was finally able to increase collaboration, communication and problem-solving at the complex.
Since the beginning of this community partnership, Sportsman’s Royal Manor ownership, security and the new management strived to achieve a crime-free, safe environment for their guests. Over the course of the initiative, ownership worked diligently to secure funding to allow capital to be available for the below changes:
1. Replacement of exterior lighting (installed LED wall packs) to increase visibility around the parking lot and exteriors.
2. Repainting exterior of all buildings including stucco, railings, fascia trim and pylons.
3. Replacement of roofing for the entire property (20 buildings).
4. Renovation of interior of units – new flooring, furniture, flat-screen TVs, paint, cabinetry and plumbing fixtures (still in process).
5. Asphalt resurfacing and striping of the entire property.
6. Landscaping renovation, including artificial turf to create an upgraded landscape on the exterior.
7. Creation of a park area where a pool was inactive.
8. Update of signage around the property.
9. Ensuring all employees are in proper uniform standards.
10. Stricter background checks, including secondary checks for out of state tenants.
11. Stricter rules and no-tolerance policies for tenants and guests who pose a threat or nuisance or nuisance to the property.
12. Community and holiday events with local churches and outreach groups.
13. Involvement in LVMPD-sponsored coalition groups.
14. Security company’s heavy involvement in meet-and-greets with new tenants and existing guests, checking for unregistered guests in common areas and parking lots.
15. New surveillance system with 38 cameras property-wide, over one month of retention, accessible from the internet and smartphones.
16. Fence surrounding entire property (pending with Nevada Department of Transportation, but still in process).
The initial police enforcement phase began with 15-minute patrols every two hours in the complex 24/7. Officers were directed to get out of their vehicles and walk the complex. They were encouraged to interact with law-abiding tenants, provide them with reassurances they were committed to staying in the area and communicate why they had increased their presence. Officers were also asked to identify the service needs of the residents so they could be brought forth as well.
Any citations or arrests were prioritized and followed up with the District Attorney’s office. This helped to prevent problematic criminal cases from being pled down. An addendum allowing for transport to the county jail for crimes that typically received criminal citations was also implemented. Large amounts of arrests were not the solution. Instead, providing needed services was the goal.
The initial enforcement efforts were met with resistance from criminals, increasing arrests and citations. However, with constant police and security presence, the criminal element learned their actions would not be tolerated or accepted. Over time, the number of arrests and citations decreased. Residents were no longer fearful and were able to enjoy their community.
To best serve the needs of residents in the complex, officers administered a safety survey, contacting every unit in the complex. Many residents reported not feeling safe walking through the property or allowing their children to play outside due to gangs and drug dealing. The survey, combined with analytical data, showed the depth of the violence within the complex.
LVMPD was fortunate in identifying willing and impactful faith-based partners in Nourishing Vine and My Father’s House Churches, which had volunteers who were eager to help. Weekly outreach events evolved into monthly outreach events such as carnivals, food drives, BBQs, school supply distribution and bicycle drives. These events brought residents together and fostered community building. Stakeholders and residents were able to establish a rapport with one another, creating mutual trust and appreciation. Working together created a sense of community with all involved and helped reduce the fear of crime. This also enabled the residents to go outside their homes and enjoy the area.
Calls for service steadily decreased to under 50 a month by 2019. Perhaps more impressive is the reduction in violent crime for the complex. Those calls went from 33 a month on average, to just 2.5. This significant reduction in violent crime allowed the Sportsman’s Royal Manor to receive a crime-free multi-housing designation, the first for an extended stay property in the County.
The Sportsman’s Royal Manor, which has been dubbed the “Phoenix Zone,” is now a blueprint for other problematic properties in Las Vegas. A follow-up survey with tenants revealed a high appreciation for the neighborhood, police officers and management. The most impactful indicator of success is the overall satisfaction of residents and improvement in the quality of life reported.
About the authors
Deputy Chief James (Jim) Seebock has been a member of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) for over 27 years. During his career, he has served in various assignments including patrol, narcotics, canine, the problem-solving unit, the tourist safety division and the Southern Nevada Counter-Terrorism Center (SNCTC), where he took on the role of Deputy Fusion Center Director. As a captain, he led two different area commands, the Organizational Development Bureau, SNCTC, and the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Bureau. In February 2020, Seebock was appointed Deputy Chief and currently oversees the eight area commands within the Community Policing Division.
Chief Seebock is a Unit Medal of Valor Award recipient, in addition to several other service awards. He was charged with leading the Department Operations Center on four separate occasions, including the night of the October 1, 2017, mass shooting. He recently graduated with a master’s degree in Homeland Security Studies from the Naval Postgraduate School and holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Administration from Nevada State College, as well as an Associates of Applied Science-Criminal Justice Degree from College of Southern Nevada.
Chief Seebock’s leadership has been instrumental in building trust with the approximately two million residents of the community, and 43 million visitors that come to Las Vegas annually, all of which contribute to LVMPD’s vision of making Las Vegas one of the safest communities in America.
Captain Reggie Rader has served his community for more than 20 years with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. He began his journey in 1998 and has risen through the ranks in assignments at the officer, sergeant and lieutenant ranks. Captain Rader gained invaluable experience while serving several stints in the gang unit. As a lieutenant in the Organizational Development Bureau, he oversaw training for the department and continued LVMPD’s tradition of transparency, accountability and empowerment. In 2019, Reggie attended the FBI National Academy and is a proud graduate of class 278. Upon his return from Quantico, he was promoted to the rank of captain. As the Southeast Area Command captain, he leads the men and women who work the busiest area in the Las Vegas Valley. He prides himself on the community partnerships and ownership that exists between his officers and citizens in his area.