In Las Vegas sirens are constant background sound

Las Vegas sirensA dozen or so times most days around Las Vegas, I hear a siren. Or rather, sirens, since there often are multiple vehicles simultaneously emitting the grating sound. When I have no line of sight, like when I’m at home, I can’t tell if the faint-louder-faint pattern comes from police cars or firetrucks or ambulances or some combination thereof.

Even in the middle of the night, when there is far less traffic to warn and flashing lights presumably could do the trick, I hear (from bed) sirens demanding the right-of-way.  Often every couple hours.

Still New to Las Vegas, I have never lived in a place with more frequent emergency response activity. That includes Albuquerque, my home for 12 years, where I lived within a mile of four hospitals with emergency rooms and local police led the nation in SWAT team incidents ending in a fatal shooting. And New York City and Seattle, where I resided within a few hundred yards of busy fire houses.

In Las Vegas the wailing tones are an ever-present–and unsettling–background theme to local life. Something bad is going down. Seemingly, nearly all the time.

Now I have no firm data to support my notion that Las Vegas is out of whack when it comes to siren activity. But I have discussed this with folks all over the Las Vegas Valley, from the unfashionable east side, where I live, to fancy Summerlin on the west.  They tend to agree with my perception that there sure is lot of siren noise out there.

What’s going on? I can think of a number of reasons. A high crime rate forcing quick police responses. Local drivers and pedestrians with–how can I say this gently–inattention problems that get them into injury-causing accidents. An aging population prone to medical emergencies.

Certainly, the violent crime rate here is almost off the charts. According to the latest FBI Uniform Crime Statistics Report, for 2015, the rate for Las Vegas and unincorporated Clark County was 921 incidents for every 100,000 residents. This was about 2½ times the national rate of 373 incidents, and a rate higher than all but a handful of big cities. In case you wonder, violent crime is stuff like murder, nonnegligent manslaughter, rape, robbery and aggravated assault–events that definitely would prompt an immediate and loud response from police and other agencies.

Now, crime statistics lag. But there is scant indication law and order is on the rise in Las Vegas. So far in 2016 there have been 158 homicides in the Las Vegas jurisdiction. That’s 25% more than the total for all of 2015, according to the FBI, and the year still has three weeks to go. The year-end total is likely to be the highest in decades. Effective January 1, the sales tax in Clark County is rising by 0.05% (five basis points for you Wall Street types) to 8.15% to provide more cops.

As for drivers, Allstate Insurance Co. puts Las Vegas right in the middle of its annual ranking of the country’s 200 largest cities for the likelihood of experiencing a traffic collision. Using its own claims database and a three-year rolling average, Allstate figures the average Las Vegas motorist goes 9.1 years between accident claims. The longer the gap, the better the drivers are deemed. Allstate ranks Las Vegas No. 99, an improvement from its 2015 ranking of No. 113 ( (No. 1 is the best drivers while No. 200 is the worst).

I moved here this summer from Seattle, which Allstate puts at No. 183, a pretty bad ranking. Yet from what I have observed, Las Vegas drivers are worse, with inability to follow traffic lights or stay in marked lanes the biggest problems. Cell-phone distraction might be a contributing factor.

One of the biggest local gas station chains goes by the name–I kid you not–of Terrible Herbst. The company promotes its name with prominent signage at its 100 or so locations around town. I can’t tell you how many times while driving I’ve heard a siren, pulled over to allow passage and, after the vehicle whizzed by, looked up to see a large sign bearing the word “Terrible.” Like in a bad movie, but somehow fitting.

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