After increase in crime, Anchorage business owners advocate for changes to SB 91

Published: Sep. 20, 2017 at 10:32 PM AKDT
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Anchorage business owners are banding together to advocate for changes to the 2016 crime reform bill SB-91.

On Wednesday, about a dozen members of the business community gathered in a downtown conference room, many saying they’ve felt the impacts of what they believe are criminals emboldened by the bill.

“The store has been burglarized three times for in excess of $65,000 of losses,” said small business owner Scott Stansbury of Device Pitstop, who advocated for a complete repeal of Alaska's criminal reforms.

Various criminal justice experts with an understanding of the recent changes to law were invited to answer questions from the crowd. Many said, although there’s been a spike in crime over the past year, it’s too early to tell how SB-91 has directly affected Alaska's crime trends.

UAA Justice Center professor Brad Myrstol said, historical data shows crime in Alaska is cyclical. He said the state experienced similar crime rates in the past, and the upward crime trend witnessed this year is a continuation of steadily increasing crime rates over the past decade, starting from historic lows in the mid 2000's.

“What needs to be made clear is that upward trend started long before SB-91,” said associate professor for the UAA Justice Center Brad Myrstol.

District Attorney Clint Campion said, from a prosecutor’s standpoint there are fixes to the law that would help alleviate some of the negative impacts of criminal reform. But he also said he would not support a complete repeal of the relatively new law, as he believes the large bill includes positive changes as well.

Campion noted that a combination of factors are bearing down on Alaska and contributing to the influx in crime, including the unprecedented opioid crisis and the state’s ongoing recession. He said, low funding and staff cuts to many law enforcement agencies have made it harder to for the state to prosecute more crimes, likening his office to an “emergency room.”

“We're open 365 days a year. We have cases coming in all the time. When we have reduced staffing we're entirely reactive. We're trying to react in the community, and we're not able to be proactive,” said Campion.

In the room, lawmakers listened to the concerns from the business owners. The legislators are expected to bring the discussion back to Juneau later this year, as discussions begin on amendments to the crime reform bill through SB-54.