Q&A: Sgt. Jenkins
Sergeant Tom Jenkins has been policing the Strip in Los Vegas for over 15 years, and knows Sin City like the back of his hand. He's watched over presidents, rock stars, fighters and beauty queens, and knows how to pick a prostitute out of a crowd of 60 women, even when they're dressed to the nines. He's aware that you're in Vegas to party, and he wants everybody to have a good – and safe – time. Here's our interview with one of the coolest cops in America.
Do cops actually like working on the Strip?
It takes a rare breed to want to work on the Strip. You need to be friendly, you need to be tough, and you need to be proactive. I'll say it... you also have to be cool. In this job, we're dealing with people from all over the world, different cultures, different languages, and I don't want to say image is everything, but it's very, very important. You have to look the part.
In the show, someone slashes your tires right in front of one of the biggest hotels on the strip, but you seem good humored enough about it to pose for pictures with tourists in front of the flat. Is being a good host part of the job of policing the strip?
Most definitely. In addition to our other work, we are ambassadors for not only Las Vegas, but in some cases, The United States of America. Cops on the strip have to be a little more patient than a lot of cops around the country. If you ask a lot of people, they'd say that most cops across the country are a**holes or robots. They don't say that about us. We want to make sure that we're some of the coolest cops in America. You can talk with us, laugh with us, ask us for a picture, you name it. I've signed autographs for little kids.
You caught a guy in the show with a little bit of what appeared to be pot, and let him off with a warning, because he was honest with you. How much of a factor is honesty when you're dealing with the public?
Honesty is a big factor. The fact is, when people visit The Strip, they expect a certain amount of leeway, and we're going to allow that. We recognize that they are here to have fun, and sometimes boundaries get crossed. There's a thin line between having fun and going overboard. If you made a minor mistake, and you're honest with me, I'll be honest with you, and honestly, there are a whole lot of other things that I could be doing. But if you lie to me, make me search you and act the fool, I'll take you jail just to prove a point.
What is one of the most outrageous things you've ever had to deal with?
I've walked up on people having sex. That happens a lot, actually. One time, I walked up on the synchronized music and water fountain show outside a hotel and saw a man with his pants down, masturbating to it.
Vegas has a reputation for being something of a lawless town. If I say, "I can come to Vegas and do whatever I want," what would you say to that?
No, you can't. Look, we're going to let you have fun and we want to have fun with you. That being said, public safety is the most important thing. When it comes to rules, you just need to remember- if you can't do it in your town, you can't do it in Vegas. The one exception is that you are allowed to walk around with an open container of alcohol.
Does that cause problems?
No actually, having an open container be legal makes our lives easier. Because we have 24-hour drinking, we don't get the binge drinking that some cities get when the bars close down at 1:30 or 2:00 AM. If you're in Vegas, you can drink all night, so believe it or not, people don't rush. Obviously, you get your exceptions and your drunks, but we don't get that many people who are out of control.
Vegas is a big bachelor party city, did you ever arrest someone who then missed his or her wedding?
Oh, I've had a lot of stories like this. I've had brides and grooms. I had a groom once who decided that after his wedding, he'd take a swim in the lake, and we were waiting on him when he tried to paddle out. The problem was, his new wife was there too, and she started getting up in our faces. We took them both to jail. She was still wearing her wedding dress.
Who's the oddest person you've ever taken to jail?
I've taken [Elvis tribute artists] to jail. A bunch of them actually. I'd say I've taken more than four [Elvis tribute artists] to jail. I took two at once, one time. They were dressed as Elvis and started a fight, feuding over territory to hang out on the strip.
Millions of people a year come to Vegas on vacation. Where do you go to relax?
When we're off duty, we might take in a show or a nightclub occasionally, but we stay away from the boulevard. We work that strip 40-50 hours, a week some weeks, so the last place we want to go to relax is that madness.
When it comes to police work, do you consider yourself a gambling man? Are there any instances when maybe a long shot lead has paid off big?
Oh most definitely. Especially working the boulevard. Sometimes, you can get people to behave real quick if you just mention the word jail, because they have a flight to catch. If you're out of line, all it takes is the thought that you might be in a holding cell instead of flying back to London, and you straighten up real quick.
Do you have a good sense for people who are just having a good time, versus criminals?
Oh yeah. You have to. Take prostitutes, you put one prostitute in a group of 60 women who might just be, shall we say "overdressed" for Vegas, and I'll pick you out the prostitute every time.
How can you tell?
First, prostitutes always walk like they are wearing snowshoes. They are on their feet all day, and are wearing these stiletto heels, and you can see it in how they walk. Another big tip is they always have a phone in their hand. ALWAYS. They consider it a cloaking device. The second a prostitute sees you, boom – up goes the phone. That's what I always say to them, "Oh you think I can't see you because you're talking on the phone." We can see them.
What kinds of people give you the most trouble?
One of the hardest groups to deal with are the happy drunks. There's angry drunks, super wasted drunks, and the happy drunks. The angry ones, they just try to fight you, but they're drunk, so they're no good at it, and you just take em right down. The super wasted ones, are like, the kids that just turned 21 and might have alcohol poisoning, for them you just call the ambulance. But the happy ones, especially the women, some of whom will just walk up to you and pull their shirts down, or take off their clothes and say "grab these, I just got them done" Nonsense like that.
It sounds like a living hell.
(laughs) Well, in all seriousness, it can be a problem, because we know why people come to the Vegas strip. They come here to have fun, and in our role as ambassadors, we want people to have a good time, but we don't want them to cross a line, endanger others, themselves, or impede our ability to make sure everyone else is safe.
What's an example of someone crossing a line, but you decide not to arrest them?
We had two schoolteachers who were (urinating) right out in front of a casino. Is what they are doing right? Of course not. But I have a choice here. I can either crack down hard, and take two schoolteachers to jail, maybe ruin their lives, give them a criminal record, or I can make a decision and send them to bed. Tell them to stay off the strip for the rest of the night. We have to use our discretion, and those two teachers weren't bad people, they just made a bad decision.
OK, here's a personal question – I'm visiting Vegas this year, and I'd like to have a good time without getting married, going broke or getting arrested. What do you recommend?
(laughter) You probably should stay in your room and play a board game.