State set to hire 5 new prosecutors to combat high crime rates
The Alaska Dept. of Law is set to hire five additional prosecutors when the Governor signs the Operating Budget for fiscal year 2019. Officials say the five prosecutors will make a major impact on public safety across the state.
John Skidmore, the director of the criminal division for the Dept. of Law, says the problem began in 2014 when the legislature cut the department's budget and 12 prosecutors lost their jobs.
At the same time, an uptick in crime began across Alaska.
The state's data shows that that surge in crime led to a drop in certain crimes being prosecuted across the state. Misdemeanor prosecutions have dropped 34% since 2014 while felony prosecutions rose only 4.6%.
Skidmore explains that prosecutors are prioritizing higher-level offenses and sometimes need to dismiss lower-level cases for lack of resources, a practice the department tries to avoid.
Two prosecutors are slated to join the Anchorage District Attorney's office with two support staff. Skidmore estimated there were around 46 pending homicides in Anchorage and only 30 attorneys to work through them.
The two hires would allow existing prosecutors to work on those cases while they worked on lower-level offenses like vehicle and property thefts.
Western Alaska would also see two new prosecutors, one for Bethel and another for Kotzebue.
Kotzebue, according to Skidmore, is in particularly desperate need for legal help."Prior to the budget cuts three years ago, Kotzebue had two prosecutors, now they only have one and that prosecutor's case load is double what any prosecutor in the state carries."
Also being created, is a statewide drug prosecutor located out of Anchorage.
The position is being created in response to the opioid epidemic, another factor in the rise of crime trends over the past few years.
Skidmore says the position will be in charge of the bigger picture of drug trafficking and how to decide where resources go. "One of the benefits of having somebody statewide is that that person can look for patterns, look for where are the drugs coming from and coming to."