Juneau Police Department Chief Ed Mercer said that crime numbers were looking good as Juneau steers its way out of the pandemic. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

Juneau Police Department Chief Ed Mercer said that crime numbers were looking good as Juneau steers its way out of the pandemic. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

Police: Crime numbers trend down as Juneau navigates out of pandemic

Property crimes were Juneau’s biggest category for the last several years.

The last two years have seen a shift in the kinds of crimes and numbers of occurrences as the entire structure of society shifted through the pandemic, and Juneau was no different.

As a result, with some exceptions, crimes in Juneau were generally trending down or remaining steady into the first half of 2021, said police leadership.

“It could look super high,” said Juneau Police Chief Ed Mercer in an interview. “But when it’s all said and done in the dust settles, they’re trending down or averaging out.”

The largest single portion of crimes committed in Juneau in the last several years is theft/larceny cases, according to JPD’s recently released annual report for 2020, with 748 cases in 2020.

“When you’re talking about overall crime in Juneau, thefts and burglaries are driving the numbers,” said Deputy Chief David Campbell in an interview. “What’s really driving this boat is property crimes.”

Campbell said that JPD wasn’t responsible for that reduction in numbers; it was Juneau residents themselves. Work-from-home policies and shuttered schools meant there was a presence at residences much more often, reducing opportunity for property crimes.

“Most property crimes are crimes of opportunity,” Campbell said. “When people are home all the time, it’s hard to burglarize it.”

Hardening one’s residence is a relatively simple matter, Campbell said; the availability of electronic security devices on the market makes it easier to protect one’s home. There’s also tried and true methods, Mercer said.

“Secure your property. Talk to your neighbors. Let them know if you’re out of town,” Mercer said. “The mentality of ‘this is the way it used to be’ doesn’t work. You have to secure your goods, even in the city of Juneau. There’s always a criminal out there.”

Locking doors, getting security devices, and basic common sense can prevent most property crimes with ease, Campbell said.

“You’re not going to be stopping the ‘Oceans 11’ crew from burglarizing your house. But the ‘Oceans 11’ crew isn’t burglarizing your house,” Campbell said. “Don’t allow yourself to become complacent.”

Statewide for 2020, total offenses were down to their lowest level in nearly 50 years. Property crimes in particular were their lowest since 1974. Violent crimes also decreased but less drastically. Larceny/theft was the biggest crime statewide as well, with 11,719 cases. However, state numbers are still well above the national crime rate, by as much as 200% in some case, such as in the case of rape.

Courtesy photo / CCFR
Capital City Fire/Rescue and the Juneau Police Department are investigating a vehicle fire that occurred early on Oct. 20. This year, there have been more than twice as many arson cases as there were last year, according to JPD data.

Courtesy photo / CCFR Capital City Fire/Rescue and the Juneau Police Department are investigating a vehicle fire that occurred early on Oct. 20. This year, there have been more than twice as many arson cases as there were last year, according to JPD data.

Anomalies and improved reporting

Campbell said the department expects those property crime numbers to go up slightly as society eases into a new shape following the pandemic. Certain other types of crimes also clocked worryingly high numbers, relatively speaking, Mercer said, such as arson, which has had 9 cases so far in 2021, up from 4 in 2020 but down from 16 in 2019.

“Arsons are concerning. They’re one of the most problematic types of crimes that we have to investigate,” Mercer said. “Trying to work through that investigation can be very complicated.”

The department is also in the early stages of transitioning department software and hardware from the Uniform Crime Reporting system to the newer National Incident Based Reporting System, with a targeted date of being done with the transition in autumn of 2022.

“The thing about crime stats is that there are two systems that the fed gov uses. one is UCR and one is NIBRS,” Campbell said. “UCR has been around since the 1930s and its really kind of antiquated.”

NIBRS allows for more prioritization and involves considerably more data entry for more precision, as well as reclassifying crimes, Campbell said. As well, the department can only collect data on incidents people call in.

“We only capture what is reported,” Mercer said. “There’s a lot of things people don’t report.”

Overall calls for service have trended downward over the last half-decade, with 52,204 in 2016 down to 42,781 in 2020. This number comes both from calls to emergency services by residents as well as officers themselves calling in incidents they’re responding to.

Overall, Mercer said, while the department can’t claim responsibility for residents putting in the work to secure their own residence, both the city and the state are slowly improving. There may always be crime but things are trending down, Mercer said.

“We are encouraged by the downward numbers,” Mercer said.

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

More in News

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Aurora forecast for the week of April 15

These forecasts are courtesy of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute… Continue reading

A waterfront view of Marine Parking Garage with the windows of the Juneau Public Library visible on the top floor. “Welcome” signs in several languages greet ships on the dock pilings below. (Laurie Craig / For the Juneau Empire)
The story of the Marine Parking Garage: Saved by the library

After surviving lawsuit by Gold Rush-era persona, building is a modern landmark of art and function.

A troller plies the waters of Sitka Sound in 2023. (Photo by Max Graham)
Alaska Senate proposes $7.5 million aid package for struggling fish processors

The Alaska Senate has proposed a new aid package for the state’s… Continue reading

Current facilities operated by the private nonprofit Gastineau Human Services Corp. include a halfway house for just-released prisoners, a residential substance abuse treatment program and a 20-bed transitional living facility. (Gastineau Human Services Corp. photo)
Proposed 51-unit low-income, long-term housing project for people in recovery gets big boost from Assembly

Members vote 6-2 to declare intent to provide $2M in budget to help secure $9.5M more for project.

Members of the Alaska House of Representatives watch as votes are tallied on House Bill 50, the carbon storage legislation, on Wednesday. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska House, seeking to boost oil and gas business, approves carbon storage bill

Story votes yes, Hannan votes no as governor-backed HB 50 sent to the state Senate for further work.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Tuesday, April 16, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

An illustration depicts a planned 12-acre education campus located on 42 acres in Juneau owned by the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, which was announced during the opening of its annual tribal assembly Wednesday. (Image courtesy of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska)
Tribal education campus, cultural immersion park unveiled as 89th annual Tlingit and Haida Assembly opens

State of the Tribe address emphasizes expanding geographical, cultural and economic “footprint.”

In an undated image provided by Ken Hill/National Park Service, Alaska, the headwaters of the Ambler River in the Noatak National Preserve of Alaska, near where a proposed access road would end. The Biden administration is expected to deny permission for a mining company to build a 211-mile industrial road through fragile Alaskan wilderness, handing a victory to environmentalists in an election year when the president wants to underscore his credentials as a climate leader and conservationist. (Ken Hill/National Park Service, Alaska via The New York Times)
Biden’s Interior Department said to reject industrial road through Alaskan wilderness

The Biden administration is expected to deny permission for a mining company… Continue reading

Most Read