Anchorage vehicle thefts down sharply in 2019

Published: Dec. 20, 2019 at 4:09 PM AKST
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Anchorage police have made substantially more traffic stops in 2019 than in the prior two years, according to police department data released earlier this month at the request of the Anchorage Assembly's Public Safety Committee.

Police chief Justin Doll told KTUU the increased number of stops might be a factor in a substantial downward trend in property crimes for the same January-to-November period over the last three years.

"Having your department engaged in lots of traffic enforcement makes it safer for the driving public. It also does tend to have an impact in all those other crime categories because the officers involved in that activity are interdicting other criminal activity by having lots of contact with lots of people moving around the city," Doll said during an interview with KTUU on Dec. 18.

According to data released earlier this month, from January-to-November, police have made more than 9,000 more traffic stops -- a nearly 30% increase -- this year over the same 11-month period in 2018, which had an increase over 2017.

Doll credited a combined approach for the for decreases in robberies, burglaries and vehicle thefts. Increased staffing, getting detectives involved sooner in serious cases, and choosing where to concentrate enforcement efforts aid with crime suppression, he said, emphasizing the value of traffic stops to larger goals.

"You go to an area that's experiencing a lot of burglaries, and you do a boatload of traffic stops. And you end up coming across the people that are in the area to do something bad. And now you've got them stopped for some lawful reason, and then you can sort of be like 'Hey what is that giant pile of tv sets in the back of this stolen car that you are driving, and where did you get those?' And so you dig in," he told the members of the Anchorage Assembly's Public Safety Committee Dec. 4.

The numbers appear to support Doll's observations.

In 2019, from January to October, police received 1,700 calls for service for burglaries, down from 2,163 burglary calls for service for the same period in 2018, which was down from 2,427 calls for service for the same period in 2017.

Theft and shoplifting are also down for 2019. The department's data shows 3,253 calls for service in this category for January-through-October of this year, compared to 3,666 in 2018 and 4,357 in 2017.

A decrease in vehicle thefts is also a stand-out. The numbers show a nearly 40-to-50% decrease so far for 2019 over 2018. From January-to-October, police report 1,404 vehicle thefts. For the same period in 2018, they recorded 2,612 vehicle thefts. In 2017, 2,586 vehicle thefts.

"We think we are having an impact," Doll told KTUU.

Again, Doll points to a combination of factors for the downward trend, including partnerships to the U.S. Attorneys Office where longer sentences can be imposed, state-level prosecutors taking more cases, and police referring more solidly prepared investigations.

"I think that we made an impact on the core group of people that were stealing lots of cars, and our overall increased effort is paying off," Doll told assembly members.

The Anchorage Police Department's participating this in a specialized three-year program with the U.S. Department of Justice will also help, Doll said. The National Public Safety Partnership aids communities in fighting gun violence, gangs, and drug trafficking. Doll said the partnership will bring crime analysis and technology to the department's efforts. Much of the focus will be on identifying commonalities between crimes and targeting offenders early in hopes of preventing crime.

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