Crime up in Alaska for 2017, but plan in place say state officials

 (Jill Burke / KTUU)
(Jill Burke / KTUU) (KTUU)
Published: Aug. 15, 2018 at 9:52 AM AKDT
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The Alaska Department of Public Safety has released its

. The report showed that the number of crimes committed went up 6 percent from 2016, but was 26 percent up from five years earlier.

Standing in the lobby of the state crime lab Wednesday, officials with the Alaska Departments of Public Safety, Law and Health called the numbers alarming, but not surprising.

"This is a significant increase in our crime rates and it’s unacceptable,” Alaska Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth told reporters during a press conference. "We didn’t have these statistics last year, but we knew it. We felt it. We heard it from the public."

The report is compiled from the crime data of 32 law enforcement agencies across Alaska. Those agencies cover 99.5 percent of the state's population. Only 12 communities did not report data to the state for the report. Only one, Whittier Police, is on the road system.

The report shows that in 2017 on average, every two hours, a burglary was committed, a vehicle was stolen, and an assault occurred. Nearly every 29 minutes, theft occurred.

Every nine hours, a robbery occurred. Every eight hours, an Alaskan was raped, and every six days, an Alaskan was murdered.

The report also showed that vehicle theft spiked starting in 2016, and continued to rise in 2017. Though it was at a 17-year low in 2011.

The report showed 4,250 vehicle thefts in 2017, compared to 4,153 burglaries.

Lindemuth and Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan said the numbers reflect a "perfect storm": the budget crisis, the opioid crisis, and a lack of staffing in law enforcement and prosecutors' offices to help stay on top of things.

"Retention and recruitment and the fact that we don’t have enough law enforcement officers in Alaska is a critical component of the issues that we are facing," Lindemuth said.

Anchorage, the Matanuska-Susitna Valley and Western Alaska are seeing the greatest increases in crime, Lindemuth said,

Monegan believes much of the increase stems from urban-centered gang violence and drug activity.

While the numbers for 2017 are alarming, state officials said crime trends for 2018 appear to reflect solutions are working. They did not provide 2018 statistics. Fewer high school students are using heroin, and prosecutors and troopers are training and hiring more staff.

Because of under staffing, the most serious crimes, usually violent crimes where people get hurt, get the most attention. Property crimes -- which resulted in $60 million in losses in 2017 -- don't get the same attention.

During the recession, the Department of Law lost 22 prosecutors, and Alaska State Trooper lost 30-40 sworn officers, Lindemuth and Monegan said.

Andy Jones, the Director of the Office of Substance Misuse and Addiction Prevention, pointed to other successes: fewer narcotics prescriptions going out to medicaid patients, more use and distribution of emergency Naloxone, which can treat an overdose and has proven, he said, to save lives.

The governor's Opioid disaster declaration from a few years ago, the state's federal designation as a high intensity drug trafficking area, and the state's Public Safety Action Plan, in combination with the uniform crime report numbers, will help the state launch solutions, secure grants, and push for helpful policy reform, Lindemuth and Monegan said.

"This is not something where there is a silver bullet to address crime. This is something where there has to be a multi-agency approach," Lindemuth said.

The more than 500 page report was released Wednesday.