Juneau Police Chief Ed Mercer speaks to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce during its weekly luncheon at the Hangar Ballroom on Thursday, April 11, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Juneau Police Chief Ed Mercer speaks to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce during its weekly luncheon at the Hangar Ballroom on Thursday, April 11, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Has Juneau’s crime wave peaked?

Police say number of crimes decreased in Juneau in 2018

With the full-year numbers in, it’s official: the number of crimes in Juneau decreased from 2017 to 2018.

Juneau Police Chief Ed Mercer and Deputy Chief David Campbell presented the figures at the Juneau Chamber of Commerce luncheon Thursday. The number of Part 1 crimes, which are essentially felony crimes, decreased by about 8.7 percent from 2017 to 2018. There were decreases in nearly every category (including theft, robbery, burglary and rape), though the number of vehicle thefts increased by 37.9 percent, according to the Juneau Police Department’s statistics.

Still, the number of crimes in 2018 was still 68 percent more than the number of crimes in 2014 (1,820 Part 1 crimes in 2018 compared to 1,081 in 2014). Juneau has seen drastic leaps in crime since 2014, according to JPD numbers.

“We hope we’ve hit the peak and are headed in the right direction,” Campbell said.

Numbers from the Juneau Police Department show an overall increase in crime in recent years but a decrease from 2017 to 2018. The chart is pictured on screen during a Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Thursday, April 11, 2019. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

Numbers from the Juneau Police Department show an overall increase in crime in recent years but a decrease from 2017 to 2018. The chart is pictured on screen during a Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Thursday, April 11, 2019. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

The drop in crime for 2018 is not surprising, as Mercer and Campbell have presented numbers since June 2018 that suggested the number of Part 1 crimes was on the decline in Juneau.

Part of this change might be attributable to better staffing. The department had 13 officer vacancies in April 2018. As of Thursday, the department just six officer vacancies. Previously, Mercer has attributed crime decrease to officers getting to know their neighborhoods and who to look for on their beat.

The way those statistics are kept is about to change dramatically, though. Former JPD captain Jerry Nankervis, who was in attendance, asked about the department’s upcoming switch from the current Summary Reporting System (SRS) to the National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS). That switch is expected to happen in 2021.

Under the SRS system, if someone commits multiple crimes in one incident, the system records it as only the most severe crime. The NIBRS system logs all crimes committed in an incident. This provides more accurate statistics, and also records more crimes.

Though the decrease in crime is a positive, the chiefs spent much of Thursday’s presentation talking about the challenges they face and the overall rise in crime the past few years. Four main factors attributed to the crime wave of recent years, they said: the opioid addiction, criminal justice reform legislation, repeat offenders and an understaffed District Attorney’s Office.

The criminal justice reform legislation in question, Senate Bill 91, was passed into law in 2016 and aimed at reducing the number of incarcerated people in Alaska. Detractors of the law say it’s allowed repeat offenders to get back on the street easier. Campbell said the rise in crime can’t solely be attributed to SB 91.

“It is true that the crime spike started before the criminal reform,” Campbell said, “but the drug epidemic was taking place before that as well.”

[Residents express frustrations, stories of Juneau crime wave]

Tackling the drug problem remains a high priority for the department, Mercer and Campbell said.

In reference to the staffing at the Juneau District Attorney’s Office, Mercer pointed out that there are fewer prosecutors than there are judges at Juneau’s Dimond Courthouse. He made that point about half an hour after the Chamber luncheon too, as he spoke to the Senate Finance Committee and requested that they put funding for another Juneau prosecutor in their budget.

“This has forced prosecutors to dismiss viable cases due to the lack of resources,” Mercer said. “Whenever a case is dismissed in this fashion, a criminal goes unpunished and a crime victim fails to receive justice.”


• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at amccarthy@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.


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