The amount of crime in Alaska continued to rise in 2017, according to numbers released by the Department of Public Safety on Wednesday, and the number of crimes in Juneau increased at a similar rate.
According to the department’s 2017 Uniform Crime Report (UCR), the statewide total of Part I crimes — murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, theft, car theft and arson — rose by about 5.5 percent. Juneau Police Department statistics showed that the number of Part I crimes in the city and borough rose by about 5.7 percent from 2016 to 2017.
That increase isn’t nearly as severe as the previous two years in Juneau. From 2014 to 2015, the number of those crimes increased by almost 40 percent. From 2015 to 2016, the number of those crimes increased by nearly 25 percent.
The number of burglaries, which has been a major concern in recent years, increased by only 5 percent from 2016 to 2017, according to the statistics. That comes after an 83.4 percent increase in that column from 2015 to 2016.
The largest percentage increase was in robberies, as the number of robberies increased by 48.4 percent in Juneau from 2016 to 2017, going from 31 to 46.
In June, JPD Chief Ed Mercer and Deputy Chief David Campbell presented statistics from the first quarter of 2018, expressing optimism. Part 1 crimes, they reported at the time, were down by 18 percent in the first quarter of 2018 versus the first quarter of 2017. Burglaries in particular were down 28.2 percent in that same time span.
JPD representatives were not immediately available for comment.
At the Chamber of Commerce in June, Mercer said part of the reason for the decline was that officers now have a better idea of who to keep an eye on.
“We see names come up on the radar over and over and over,” Mercer said at the time, “and I can tell you that we focus on that and we work with our prosecutors to try to come up to solutions of either getting these individuals charged and convicted of a crime … or getting these people help.”
The statewide violent crime rate — murder, rape, robbery, assault — rose 7 percent. In a press conference unveiling the statistics Wednesday, Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth said these statistics are not surprising, but are still troubling.
“This is a significant increase in our crime rates,” Lindemuth said, “and it’s unacceptable.”
The statewide statistics were compiled with the help of 32 police agencies around the state. Twelve agencies did not report their statistics. The 32 agencies that did report, according to a DPS release, cover 99.5 percent of the state’s population.
Lindemuth and DPS Commissioner Walt Monegan pointed out two main factors for this increase. With decreasing state budgets, they said, there are fewer police officers and prosecutors to enforce the laws. Secondly, with the increase in drug use (particularly opioid drug use) in the state, more crime has come along with that.
“This is a public health issue as well as a public safety issue,” Lindemuth said. “Those two go hand in hand.”
Monegan said there are 1.7 police officers per thousand people in Alaska. The national averages, he said, are usually around 2.1 or 2.2 police officers per thousand people. Lindemuth said her department has lost 22 prosecutors since 2014. She got approval from the Legislature this past session for five more prosecutors, she said, and hopes to get approval for five more this upcoming session.
JPD has not been immune to staffing struggles. According to the UCR statistics, JPD’s total staff decreased from 82 to 72 employees from 2016 to 2017 including a loss of six officers. JPD officials have said this staffing decrease is in part because of nationwide trends that show a decline in police recruitment, and in part because of tight budgets.
The department has been working to fill vacancies and has made progress this year. Three police academy graduates recently joined the staff, and two other officers have also signed on this summer. As of the end of June, JPD still had eight vacancies among sworn officers, which is an improvement from 11 vacancies this past December.
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.