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.

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