LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — When patrons couldn’t go through traffic on the Las Vegas Strip, Clark County built 15 bridges over them. Now, there are potential criminal implications if someone stops on one.
Tuesday, Clark County Commissioners unanimously approved an amendment to a county ordinance that makes it “unlawful for any person to stop, stand, or engage in an activity that causes another person to stop or stand within any Pedestrian Flow Zone.” Those flow zones are each pedestrian bridge and up to 20 feet surrounding adjoining elevators, stairs, and escalators.
Those convicted of violating the new rules are subject to a misdemeanor, with up to six months in county jail and up to $1,000 in fines.
“The bridges were not designed for pedestrians to stop, stand or congregate,” Clark County Counsel Lisa Logsdon said while addressing the board Tuesday. “The pedestrian flow zone is similar to pedestrian zones located in other large cities, such as New York City.”
LVMPD cited concerns with accessing the bridges when they are full of people congregating on them, such as when performers solicit a crowd while performing.
“All they need to do is go down to the surface level, and for the most part, they will be speaking to the exact same audience that they would speak to if they were on the bridges themselves,” Las Vegas Lawyer Mitchel Langberg said, addressing the board. “This passes constitutional muster.”
Undersheriff Andy Walsh also points to the necessity of keeping them clear for emergency evacuation situations.
“Calls of active shooter type events where crowds come rushing out of casino properties,” Walsh said, addressing the board. “It would be very difficult for people to use those bridges as an exit from what their perceptions are of the danger and also be very difficult for officers to address the threat if that were existing.”
Analyses of crime in these areas by UNLV Criminal Justice Professor William H. Sousa are also cited, who found a 23% increase in disorderly calls for service on Las Vegas Boulevard from 2018 to 2022. 11% of those calls disproportionately came from these bridges despite them representing only 6% of the total available sidewalk space along the resort corridor. He additionally found a 1,700% increase in calls for disorderly unhoused individuals within the same time frame.
While police indicate they will not target visitors simply taking a photo from the elevated view, opponents are concerned about selective enforcement by police since the types of activities targeted are not specified in the ordinance. Las Vegas Law Professor Eve Hanan calls the language “vague” with incidental effects on First Amendment rights.
“It’s impossible for the ordinary person to know when they are in compliance with the law,” Hanan said, addressing the board. “To add more crimes, to put more fines on (street performers), to put them in positions where they have open cases for months and years – which inhibits them from getting jobs – it’s simply not good policy.”
The ACLU of Southern Nevada now says it will pursue legal action against what Executive Director Athar Haseebullah calls “a setup for disproportionate enforcement.”
“You can’t have laws on the books that only apply to some folks and not to others,” Haseebullah said outside the Clark County Government Building Tuesday morning. “To us, if you’re going to say you need more action, you could put police up there permanently, but they don’t want to do that. It’s not bad enough for that, but it’s so bad that you have to enact a proposal that if you’re stopping for a selfie, you need to be subjected to a criminal penalty.”
While commissioners unanimously approved the new rules, they remained skeptical of how equitable the enforcement may be.
“How are we going to make sure that person is not getting a slap on the wrist and another person, who may have done the exact same thing, is not getting up to 6 months in jail?” Clark County Commissioner William McCurdy II said.
“It’s essential to us that we provide the tools to the police department to be able to do what needs to be done in the rare occasion that someone is going to object or someone is going to refuse to abide by an ordinance that is a lawful ordinance,” Clark County Commissioner Jim Gibson said.
Clark County is expected to install signs within newly established flow zones to alert visitors of the new rules. They likely will go into effect on January 17, or two weeks after it is published in the local newspaper.
Undersheriff Walsh stressed that officers will be instructed to educate those defying the ordinance first before citing or arresting any individual. The stopping rule does not apply to those waiting to board an elevator.
Clark County released the following statement in response to the board’s action Tuesday:
“The Board of Clark County Commissioners today passed an ordinance that would allow for free movement on the pedestrian walkways to reduce crime and enhance safety along the Las Vegas Boulevard. The Pedestrian Flow Zone ordinance will help to ensure our world-class tourism destination remains a safe place for people to visit and transverse. Through this ordinance, to maintain the safe and continuous movement of pedestrian traffic, it is unlawful for any person to stop, stand, or engage in an activity that causes another person to stop or stand within any Pedestrian Flow Zone. This is not interpreted to mean that tourists and locals cannot take photos along the Boulevard while on a pedestrian bridge, but rather is intended to maintain the safe and continuous movement of pedestrians on the bridges to ensure pedestrian safety on the bridges.
The ordinance is narrowly written to accomplish the County’s important objective of reducing the incidence and risk of crime and serious safety issues on pedestrian bridges and allows pedestrians to freely and safely get to their desired location.”