There is no evidence laws passed in Nevada in 2019 caused a rise in crime. (Photo: Ronda Churchill/Nevada Current)
The results of Nevada’s midterm elections could have a massive impact on the state and possibly tip the balance of power nationally, with tight races in four open House seats, the Senate and the governor’s office.
The hotly contested idea of public safety is at the core of many of these races.
For good reason, one poll shows that 80 percent of voters worry about crime a “fair amount” to a “great deal.” Unfortunately, headlines and political ads are full of misrepresentations on both sides about crime data leaving voters confused about which vote will make them safer.
It’s hard to tell from all the ads, finger-pointing and accusations, but from 2018 to 2021, violent crimes fell as a whole in Nevada. Murder rates were the only violent crime that increased during that time, and although this is certainly reason for concern, they still came in below murder rates in 2017. Similarly, larceny and burglary remain below their 4-year high, with only motor vehicle and arson trends seeing any real increase. One stat that sticks out is that police have only been “clearing” or solving 8 to 39 percent of these cases, respectively.
Blame for these isolated increases in crime has fallen on the bipartisan comprehensive criminal justice reform bill passed in 2019—that took effect July 1, 2020—and a series of pretrial reform bills passed in 2021. However, there is no evidence that these commonsense solutions caused a rise in crime. To the contrary, these efforts help prioritize law enforcement time, court resources, and jail and prison beds for repeat and violent offenders.
Research shows that 13-25 percent of prison admissions are due to low-risk, technical violations of parole or probation—such as failing to pay required fines and fees or consuming an alcoholic beverage. The Nevada Legislature helped decriminalize being poor and now require graduated sanctions. No one benefitted from having these people back in prison and millions of taxpayers’ dollars were wasted.
Similarly, issuing citations in lieu of arrest for an individual accused of non-violent, non-repeat misdemeanor offenses makes sense, since research shows that any amount of pretrial detention can increase recidivism rates and thus be detrimental to public safety.
Studies show that there is no resulting increase in theft or other property crimes in states that increased their felony threshold. Thankfully, Nevada finally joined 39 other states in increasing their felony theft threshold to $1,000 and above—from $650 set in 2011. Thieves are still being prosecuted; the level of offense has just finally caught up with the realities of inflation and economics where people carry $1,200 phones in their pocket.
It’s important to note that none of these criminal justice reforms specifically addressed or changed the way the system treats more serious crimes, like murder, crimes of violence or motor vehicle thefts. The raising of the felony theft threshold did not apply to motor vehicles—which remains a felony regardless of the value of the vehicle. Law enforcement is not required, nor are they generally allowed, to give citations to individuals suspected of murder, violent crimes or motor vehicle theft. Technical probation violations do not include the commission of these crimes—nor a litany of other crimes.
The increases in murder and motor vehicle rates are not unique to Nevada; they follow national crime trends that began after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the public unrest following the murder of George Floyd.
Voters can and should care about public safety when voting and should seek to understand and mitigate the real reasons for the increase in murders in Nevada. But they need to make sure their votes are based on facts, not paid advertising and misinformed headlines. Smart criminal justice reforms work. Happy voting.
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