The former head of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department blasted federal officials on Thursday, saying the continual lack of anti-terrorism money has hurt the city and might have cost lives during Sunday’s attack.
“I said, ‘Someday you’re going to regret this,’” Bill Young, who was Clark County sheriff from 2003 to 2007, told The Palm Beach Post on Thursday. “They were told this could happen in Vegas.”
“I’m pissed, because they were told,” he added. “I hate to say I was right and they were so far wrong.”
Las Vegas always has been near the bottom of the list of cities that receive the Homeland Security Department’s Urban Area Security Initiative grants, given to “high-threat, high-density urban areas.” In 2015, for example, the city was tied for 20th, getting the same $3 million as cities like Riverside, Calif.; Charlotte, N.C.; and Tampa.
From the time the grants were introduced, in the wake of 9/11, the historically blunt-speaking Young has publicly sparred with federal officials over how little Las Vegas has received. In 2006, he called for the resignation of then-Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff after Las Vegas was dropped from a list of high-target cities. It was put back on the list after Nevada’s senators intervened.
When he was sheriff, the federal money went to equipment, such as robots and bomb-detection devices, and training for police and firefighters, including sending some officers to a bomb-training school.
Whether it would have prevented Sunday night’s attack on the Las Vegas Strip, which left 58 dead and nearly 500 injured, is impossible to know. Young said he had other questions about the incident, such as how no hotel workers noticed the shooter’s arsenal of 23 firearms assembled in his hotel suite.
“In this case, it wasn’t ISIS or al-Qaida, it was a domestic terrorist,” said Young, who is vice president of security for Station Casinos, a chain of casino-resorts that cater to locals. “And where did he go? The Las Vegas Strip.”
Information emerged Thursday showing the shooter may have considered striking other cities, with reports that he researched Boston’s Fenway Park and reserved in August but never used a hotel room in Chicago with a clear view of the outdoor Lollapalooza music festival.
Where the money goes
The federal Urban Area Security Initiative distributed $587 million in 2015-16 to 28 high-threat, high-density urban areas to protect against acts of terrorism. Las Vegas tied with eight areas for the least amount. The Miami-Fort Lauderdale area got $5.5 million.
1. New York City: $180.9 million
2. (tie) Los Angeles area: $69.5 million
2. (tie) Chicago area: $69.5 million
4. District of Columbia: $54 million
5. California Bay area: $28.4 million
20. (tie) Las Vegas area: $3 million
SOURCE: Department of Homeland Security Fiscal Year 2015 Homeland Security Grant Program
Just how much of a terrorist target Las Vegas is compared to other cities is unclear. Officials in the city have always warned that “Sin City” is everything that Islamic terrorists despise.
Five of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 visited the city before carrying out their attacks. In 2003, threats forced Young to consider canceling the city’s New Year’s Eve celebrations, in which the Strip is closed to traffic and hundreds of thousand of people take to the street. And the city was featured in an ISIS video earlier this year.
But one local FBI official told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in 2011 that the 2003 New Year’s Eve threats were probably an “overreaction” that would have been handled differently today.
Since 2011, Las Vegas has received $14.5 million — about $2 million less than Pittsburgh — out of $3.5 billion given away in the federal program. In 2013, the city received nothing.
New York City has received far and away the most, more than $1 billion during the same period. Orlando, another top tourist destination, received just $1 million in the four years before the June 2016 massacre at the Pulse nightclub. The Miami-Fort Lauderdale area, which includes Palm Beach County, has received $37 million since 2011.
The cities are apparently victims of DHS’ funding formula.
In 2006, Chertoff, responding to Young’s criticism, told a House homeland security committee that the formula accounted for threat assessments, critical infrastructure and how prepared a city already was for an attack.
“I know that creates a kind of ironic situation where a well-prepared community does not get money and a poorly prepared community does get money, but this is not really about punishing and rewarding,” Chertoff said. “It is about raising the general level of security.”
The formula now takes into account factors such as urban density, whether there’s a military base nearby, critical infrastructure and whether a city is near a border.
But the formula does not take into account the number of tourists or sites like Disney World and the Las Vegas Strip, that draw massive numbers of outsiders, Young said. And that misses the point, he said.
“Terrorism is to attack people, not buildings,” he said. “Homeland Security thinks concrete and buildings, and I think people and lives. And that’s what the difference is.”
He said he has argued with DHS about its formula “until I was red in the face,” but they wouldn’t listen to other opinions.
“DHS is the worst agency to possibly ever protect this country from anything,” he said.
Staff researcher Melanie Mena and staff writer Mike Stucka contributed to this story.