There were stories about stolen cars, stolen property, assault and death.
In a town-hall meeting Wednesday evening at the Mendenhall Valley Public Library, Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike Dunleavy listened to the complaints and fears of more than a dozen Juneau residents, then explained that issues like these are why public safety is his No. 1 issue in the fall general election.
”I think the story that’s being told across Alaska right now … is a story of lawlessness,” Dunleavy said. “I think the message should be received by all politicians both locally and statewide that the folks have had it.”
The event was organized by Tom Boutin, one of the key figures in Dunleavy’s Juneau campaign.
“We want Juneau people who experience crime to let him know what crime looks like down here in Juneau,” Boutin said.
According to statistics from the annual Uniform Crime Report, Juneau has more reported crimes than at any point in its history: 2,813 in the seven categories covered by the UCR last year.
Even adjusted for population, Juneau’s crime rate is high. In 2017, there was one UCR crime for every 11.47 people in Juneau. In 2010, it was one crime for 11.66 people. In 2007, it was one per 14.68 people. In 1987, it was one for every 18.6 people. In 1977, it was one per 18.94.
Some of that increase is likely due to better record-keeping and reporting standards, but even in that event, residents say they are seeing crime affect their lives more widely and in deeper ways than before.
“Juneau has changed a lot … even just in the last five years,” Boutin said.
Wade Bryson, candidate for Juneau Assembly District 2, explained his frustration when police were unable to immediately arrest two people who he says stole a safe from one of his Subway restaurant.
Kathy Hosford of Dyea talked about her frustration when two of her vehicles were stolen.
Others offered stories and suggestions. Juneau firefighter Roy Johnston explained what happened when his firefighting gear was stolen from his truck in 2015. Since then, he’s been the target of five other burglaries.
He urged more funding for public safety at the state level.
“The state crime lab for years has taken hits to the point that they don’t have the funding that they should … to handle the volume of the crime that they have,” he said.
“There’s not enough (district attorneys) to handle the load,” he added.
One of the most compelling stories came from a grandmother who was assaulted inside Juneau’s Dimond Courthouse by her mentally ill grandson during a court hearing.
Alaska desperately needs options for mental health treatment, she said, not just prison time.
Lesley Thompson of Douglas agreed, saying public condemnation and criminal punishment isn’t enough.
“How do you shame someone who’s got a mental illness that can’t get the proper medication or they’re using meth because of their childhood?” she asked.
Don Etheridge, candidate for Senate District Q, said his 10-week-old grandson was smothered to death, and he wanted the child’s mother investigated for being under the influence of alcohol. That didn’t happen, he said.
“The police department, they’re undermanned, they’re understaffed, they don’t have the resources to do what they need to do,” he said.
Forty-three people were in the audience when the event began, and a handful of others arrived after it started; others stopped to listen for a time as they walked in and out of the library’s foyer.
Dunleavy listened to the stories with a notepad in hand, then stood up to talk at the end of the event.
“The long story short is, for the first time that I’ve been in the state of Alaska … the culture of law-abiding citizens has changed as a result of the lawlessness of others,” he said.
“In some parts of Alaska right now, it’s almost third-world. It’s like a ‘stan’ from central Asia.”
His intention is to reverse the Friday afternoon closure of state courthouses, “shift resources into hiring troopers,” and increase criminal penalties for various crimes.
“I’ll have to go to the Legislature and increase, of course, penalties for drug-dealing,” he said.
In response to a question from the audience asking for more specifics, he said Alaska needs “to have the correct number of troopers” and “have the right number of prosecuting attorneys.”
“Yes, it will cost money. It’s my intention that we have to look in the administration … and cost-shift into those things,” he said.
• Contact reporter James Brooks at firstname.lastname@example.org or 523-2258.