Security gets boost for New Year’s Eve in Las Vegas

Author: the associated press
kennejima / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

LAS VEGAS (AP) – Officials are urging New Year’s Eve revelers in Las Vegas to leave bags, backpacks and strollers at home as police ready for hundreds of thousands of partiers to flood the casino-filled corridor on Thursday.

It’s not a first-of-its-kind request, but it’s getting extra emphasis on the Las Vegas Strip following deadly attacks in Paris and San Bernardino and, more recently, a driver on Las Vegas Boulevard who witnesses say intentionally plowed into pedestrians on a busy sidewalk, killing one person.

Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman lamented the prospect that fear might keep people from celebrating New Year’s Eve, or any event.

“It can’t be. We cannot let that rule,” she said.

She reminded visitors and locals to live by the oft-repeated mantra: see something, say something.

“We are always ready, and we’re always watching,” she said, balancing assurances the events would be safe with promises of the party potential. “We know how to have fun,” she said.

Officials expect 332,000 people to watch fireworks shoot from seven rooftops on the Las Vegas Strip and crowd Fremont Street in downtown.

The popular 4-mile-long Strip becomes a lengthy pedestrian mall for the night. Walking among them will be nearly 1,000 uniformed officers and an undisclosed number of undercover officers. A few hundred more will patrol Fremont Street where paid admission is required to enter the fenced-off event underneath a massive video-screen canopy.

“We’re putting more hands on deck to ensure that we have a safe environment,” Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo said this week.

Lombardo said tips from the community about suspicious activity have tripled since the Paris attacks but there have been no credible threats.

“But law enforcement in France likely wasn’t briefed on a credible threat before the Paris attacks,” Lombardo said at a Nevada Commission on Homeland Security meeting held earlier this month. It was noted at the meeting that there had been enhanced intelligence-gathering leading up to New Year’s Eve and that investigations nationwide into Islamic State activities included Nevada.

Footage from up to 100 cameras on the Las Vegas Strip and Fremont Street have been routinely monitored, and teams have been training for active-shooter situations in the closed Riviera casino-hotel.

“You never know what’s going to happen, but we’re doing the training,” Gov. Brian Sandoval said at the commission meeting. “We’re covering as many bases as we can anticipate.”

This year, uniformed officers normally stationed in the middle of Las Vegas Boulevard medians to observe the surrounding crowds, will be strolling among the revelers and everyone in the department will be working.

“The environment that we’re living in now has changed,” Lombardo said.

Following the Paris attacks that killed 130 people, Lombardo said he attempted to work with the county’s elected leaders to ban bags, backpacks and strollers from the Strip during the night or make them subject to search but couldn’t arrange for an ordinance in time.

“We can’t just, ad hoc, put a law in place,” he said.

So the reminder to not bring bags and strollers – including encouraging casino-hotel operators to tell guests to keep their bags in their rooms – remained a request, not a requirement.

Tod Story, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, said he understands heightened security concerns, but any ordinance barring bags and backpacks or mandating searches would need to include the public in the debate. Story said he couldn’t see how such an ordinance would be enforceable as long as Las Vegas Boulevard remained a public street that wasn’t cordoned off.

“There’s no way they can close down Las Vegas Boulevard,” he said.

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