New crime report shows drop in drug seizures, spike in crime

A new report from the Juneau Police Department reflects what local residents already know — Juneau saw an unusually high amount of crime last year.

In 2015, Juneau homicides, rapes, robberies, assaults and burglaries reached five-year highs. Serious crime in Alaska’s capital increased by 39.59 percent from the year prior, but total drugs police seized took a serious drop.

“The drugs are out there,” JPD Chief Bryce Johnson said. “We just didn’t have time to seize them because we were working all those murder cases, but the drugs are out there.”

According to a JPD report released two weeks ago analyzing 2015 crime activity, the department seized just over 300 grams of heroin. In contrast, the department seized 4,650 grams in 2014.

“I think that our numbers went down because our staffing numbers went down,” JPD Deputy Chief Ed Mercer said. “(That) slowed down our investigation.”

JPD normally has two officers in its drug unit, but last year only one officer was in the unit. Because drug seizures are the result of proactive investigations, they require more time and manpower. With the department handling four homicides in a city where zero or one homicide is the norm, no officer could be spared and simply put, other units suffered, police officials said. The department also faced 12 vacancies across different units last year, further spreading thin its resources.

“There is a lot of demand (for drugs), we have a lot of drug users in town,” Johnson said. “We’ll keep working the supply side.”

This year, Deputy Chief Mercer said a stronger focus on drugs and seizures is already in the works. An Alaska State Trooper analyst started working with the department this year, aiding the drug unit. A second trooper will arrive sometime this summer to also help out with drug investigations. Troopers and JPD have always worked together, but having two people work directly out of JPD’s building is a new attempt at streamlining the process to get the most work done, Johnson said.

Despite a drop in seizures and crime spikes, Johnson said he was proud of how the department handled an incident-saturated year. Only one homicide investigation — the double murder in Douglas in November — remains open, and he said he’s confident his department will close that one in a “relatively short amount of time,” although he did not elaborate on any leads they may have at this time.

Another gross change from 2014 to 2015 statistics was reported rapes in Juneau. There were 68 in 2015, a 195.65 percent increase from 2014 when 23 rapes were reported. Officials said this jump is a reflection of a new reporting method that counts each occurrence of rape by the same attacker against the same victim. Previously, a person raped multiple times by the same suspect was only considered one case.

As far as the spikes in serious crimes go, Johnson had this to say: “Crime numbers get driven by economic conditions, by family conditions, by educational opportunities, by a lot of social factors that the police can’t control. But what we can do is partner with the community to … make it the best place we can.”

Chief Johnson will deliver a presentation about last year’s crime numbers during the City and Borough of Juneau’s Assembly of the Whole meeting at 6 p.m. on Monday in City Hall Chambers.

To read the entire 2016 Annual report, visit http://www.juneau.org/jpd/documents/2016AnnualReportFINAL.pdf.

The figures:

2014 2015

Homicide 1 4

Rape 23 68

Robbery 24 29

Aggravated Assault 14 180

Burglary 103 169

Theft 742 991

Vehicle Theft 31 59

Arson 16 9

• Contact reporter Paula Ann Solis at 523-2272 or paula.solis@juneauempire.com.

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