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Anchorage crime dips 6.3% to new low, according to police chief

Suzanna CaldwellAlaska Dispatch News
Loren Holmes photo

Despite the population of Anchorage steadily increasing, crime in Alaska's largest city is down -- at least slightly.

The city released its 2011 Uniform Crime Report on Wednesday. The report shows overall crime down 6.3 percent from last year -- and at its lowest level ever since reporting began in the 1970s, all despite a steady increase in city's population.

Despite the overall decline, several categories – including robberies and forcible rape -- were up slightly. The report counted 11 more robberies in 2011 than the previous year; forcible rapes increased by 19 incidents.

Categories that were down? Burglaries (143 fewer), aggravated assault (73 fewer) and motor vehicle theft (188 fewer). There were 12 murders in 2011, down one from 2010.

In delivering the report, Anchorage Police Department Chief Mark Mew noted that “forcible rape” is a subset of total sexual assaults. Next year, he said, the definition will change to “sexual assault” which will take a broader range of crimes into account. While Mew couldn't speak to the details of the new definition, he said the number of sexual assaults in the report will probably rise.

Sexual assault rates in Alaska are some of the highest in the nation. Using data from the 2010 Uniform Crime report, Forbes found that Anchorage had the second highest occurrence of rapes per 100,000 people in the nation.

With robberies, Mew noted that even though there was an increase, it's up from near-record lows.

Mew said focusing on problems areas of the city and shifting policing efforts toward street-level drug enforcement could account for the higher number.

“We're locking up more people in general,” he said.

Compiled by the FBI, the report uses definitions that apply to other police forces across the country. It’s considered an indicator of crime trends across the city, but not a complete picture. Victimization surveys and the Anchorage Police Department's “Calls For Service” report, which has not yet been released, can provide a more well-rounded picture of crime in Anchorage.

As the municipal budget process begins, Mew said he's hopeful the department doesn't see layoffs. Sullivan noted that no one expects to cut any patrol officer positions and that the 2013 police academy is already included in the proposed budget.

The city is trying to deal with a $30 million budget shortfall for next year. In the more drastic version of mayor's two proposed budgets, known as “Plan A,” which the mayor himself does not favor, 29 police officers and 11 unfilled police positions would be cut. In September, two dozen police officers -- mostly new hires -- met with Alaska State Troopers, looking into other policing options if cut from the city's payroll.

“If we got smaller, we'd be challenged to keep as much pressure on crime,” Mew said.

Sullivan reiterated that his efforts to limit illegal camping in the city had made a dent in reducing crime. While he admitted that there's “still a lot to do” to make Anchorage a safer place, he feels like it's on track.

“Frankly, I feel (Anchorage) is quite clean and safe,” he said. “The numbers speak for themselves.”

Contact Suzanna Caldwell at suzanna(at)alaskadispatch.com

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