Frustrated and anxious residents of Anchorage's Valley of the Moon neighborhood sent a letter to Mayor Ethan Berkowitz this week pleading for more police on the trail system, citing rising crime and the recent killings of two men in a popular park.
"The greenbelt has become a lawless corridor where crime is a known and frequent problem," said the letter, written by Anchorage attorney and Valley of the Moon neighborhood resident Eva Gardner.
More than 90 people signed the letter, which was circulated on the neighborhood social networking site Nextdoor.com after the weekend killings.
Gardner said in an interview Friday that concerns about petty theft and burglary have been mounting among neighbors for months. She called the Aug. 28 killings in Valley of the Moon Park, along West 17th Avenue between the north end of Arctic Boulevard and the south end of E Street, "the last straw."
"These are high-density, urban-environment problems," Gardner said, referring to cities far larger than Anchorage. She added: "If you ride your bike on the trail after dark, you shouldn't have to worry about getting shot. The violent crime is really what prompted the real community action here."
The Anchorage Police Department couldn't immediately provide statistics Friday showing whether crime in the neighborhood has risen in the past year. But neighbors have reported stolen bikes, frequent break-ins and a seemingly constant stream of suspicious activity.
"The rise in crime has already eliminated any room for human error in our lives," Gardner wrote in the letter. "Any vehicle, house, or garage accidentally left unlocked — even for minutes — will be entered and stripped of valuables."
Gardner wrote that residents lock doors "obsessively," have packages delivered to workplaces and have investigated home-security systems.
But she said neighbors don't know how to compensate for violent crime. She cited recent episodes: An armed robbery, a woman stabbed, and the two men shot dead in the park.
"Veteran residents say this summer is the worst it has ever been," Gardner said. "Please put more officers on the trails."
Susanne Fleek-Green, chief of staff for Berkowitz, said that representatives of the mayor's office and the Police Department would attend the North Star Community Council meeting Sept. 14. She said the mayor's office was taking the letter seriously and wants to talk to neighbors about it. Valley of the Moon Park is within the North Star Community Council boundaries.
Fleek-Green said efforts to increase police patrols are already underway. She noted that members of the Police Department's community policing team were in the Valley of the Moon area on Wednesday.
She also pointed to the administration's efforts to increase the size of the Police Department.
"I think the majority of residents still very much feel safe in this community," Fleek-Green said.
But worry is now pervasive among Valley of the Moon residents. Marly Sonneborn has lived in the neighborhood for four years. She's from England originally, where crime rates aren't much different, she said. But she said she felt far safer there.
An Anchorage police message earlier this week that warned people not to go out alone on the trails late at night struck a nerve.
"To be told by the police that no, don't go into our public spaces, don't go into the park once it's dusky, is the wrong answer," said Tony Fischbach, a wildlife biologist who has lived in the Valley of the Moon neighborhood for more than two decades.
Fischbach said he was impressed by Berkowitz's efforts to clear out homeless camps near C Street after taking office last year. Things seemed to be headed in the right direction, he said.
"But right now, apparently, there's other forces that are larger than that," Fischbach said. Two days ago, someone cut through a cable and stole a bicycle trailer that had been undisturbed in his carport for years.
There's been talk of creating neighborhood patrols and a citizen police force. Fleek-Green said the mayor's office has received a number of requests about patrols.
Fischbach, however, said he isn't behind that idea.
"We pay taxes so we have people who are certified and trained and have resources to address things," Fischbach said. "We should not be doing this ourselves."