Correction: A previous version of this article erroneously stated that an increase from 94 burglaries to 358 burglaries is a 380 percent increase. It is actually a 280 percent increase. The Empire regrets this error.
There was more than one burglary per day in Juneau in February, according to Juneau Police Department statistics.
JPD Chief Ed Mercer said there were 29 burglaries reported in town in February, which fits into the recent trends of rising property crime in the capital city. Lt. Krag Campbell said it was about a 50/50 split between businesses and residences that were burglarized in February.
Official statistics for 2017 will be available later this month, Mercer said, and he expects those statistics to show that there was a burglary for almost every day of 2017.
Statistics provided to the Mayor’s Taskforce on Public Safety in September show a projection of 358 burglaries in 2017. That would be a 280 percent increase since 2012 (when there were 94 burglaries), according to those statistics.
Two main factors seem to be contributing to this spike, Mercer said. Many of the people committing these crimes, Mercer said, are drug users. Many of the people committing these crimes, he said, are also familiar faces.
“The frustration for law enforcement, especially at the Juneau Police Department, is that we feel like we’re dealing with the same people over and over,” Mercer said.
That’s in part due to the efforts of Senate Bill 91 (which was signed into law in July 2016), that aims to reduce the amount of incarcerated people in Alaska and save the state money and promote counseling, treatment and other alternatives to jail. For lower-level crimes such as vandalism and disorderly conduct, people are merely cited for their crimes and quickly released without having to spend time in prison.
Another change as part of SB 91 is the new statewide Pretrial program that went into effect Jan. 1 of this year. In this program, defendants are graded based on how likely they are to reoffend or not show up for their court hearings. Based on that grade, judges can then release the defendants so they can await their court date at home and keep going to work. In some cases, this can result in defendants committing new crimes prior to their court date.
Mercer said it’s still too soon to say whether Pretrial has further contributed to criminals reoffending. Senate Bill 54, which was signed into law in November 2017, backs off on some parts of SB 91 and gives judges a little more authority in deciding a defendant’s fate.
With drug use rising and laws about enforcement changing so much around the state, Mercer said, this increase in crime is widespread.
“Juneau’s no exception to any other community in Alaska,” Mercer said. “I’ve had conversations with other chiefs. They’re saying the same thing.”
Statewide numbers from 2017 are not yet available, but 2016 statistics from the Department of Public Safety show burglaries increased by almost 38 percent from 2012 to 2016.
As crimes increase, staffing levels at the department have remained the same. Campbell said the department’s staffing numbers are based on the amount of crimes and calls from about 20 years ago. The department doesn’t even have those numbers fully staffed. JPD is supposed to have 55 officers, Mercer said, but there are 44 on duty (three more are in training at the moment and will join the force shortly).
This staffing shortage is due in part to a nationwide trend of people being less interested in joining the police force, as Deputy Chief David Campbell explained in meetings of the Mayor’s Taskforce on Public Safety. The Taskforce’s recommendations to the Assembly at the time included offering more competitive salaries and more bonuses to officers.
Mercer said with the staffing shortage, any help from residents and business owners is greatly appreciated. He said more neighborhood watch groups have been forming recently, and any security measures people have in place will help officers catch criminals.
“The best way I think we combat this is as a community,” Mercer said, “to work together and have good reporting mechanisms in place. I know that in the downtown area, a lot of businesses have installed surveillance. That is very helpful in our investigations. It helps prosecutors, so continue to do that.”
2014 – 103 burglaries
2015 – 169 (64 percent increase)
2016 – 310 (83 percent increase)
2017 (projected) – 358 (15 percent increase)
2014 – 3,136 burglaries
2015 – 3,498 (11.5 percent increase)
2016 – 4,036 (15.4 percent increase)
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.