Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz apologized Wednesday for what he characterized as an "insensitive comment" he made after three people died in a shooting in a shop in Spenard.
In a brief interview with Alaska Dispatch News at Tuesday's Anchorage Assembly meeting, Berkowitz, without commenting specifically on the Spenard shooting, tried to indicate that most of Anchorage's slayings this year were not random crimes.
"I understand the concern; we've got our work cut out for us," Berkowitz said. "But if you're not engaged in drug trafficking and not out after midnight, it's a very safe city."
The remark triggered some backlash and confusion in online comments and on social media. Some questioned whether the mayor had suggested a curfew. Others pointed out that the shooting Tuesday morning at The Bullion Brothers shop in Spenard happened during the day.
On Wednesday, Berkowitz released a statement on his mayoral Facebook page.
"First, I did not express myself clearly and apologize for an insensitive comment," Berkowitz said. "To clarify, whether noon or midnight, I and APD work all day every day to keep our city safe and secure."
Berkowitz is up for re-election next year, and his slogan as mayor has been "Safe. Secure. Strong." He said in a phone interview later Wednesday he was concerned his remarks came across as callous.
"Each one of these victims has a family and has connections in the community," Berkowitz said.
Separate from the Spenard killings, Berkowitz said he also had wanted to acknowledge broad community concerns about crime. The city is wrestling with a growing drug problem, which fuels other types of criminal activity, and state-level changes in prosecution and incarceration, Berkowitz said.
Berkowitz pointed to efforts in his tenure to improve public safety, such as reinstating police foot patrols and staff dedicated to communicating with residents, in addition to hiring dozens of new Anchorage police officers.
He also said he didn't intend to suggest that Anchorage residents should not go out after midnight.
"Statistically, more things happen at certain times than at others," Berkowitz said. "But that doesn't reduce the responsibility that we have to provide as much public safety as we can."
Tuesday's shooting left the 31-year-old co-owner of The Bullion Brothers, Steven Cook, dead. Kenneth Hartman, 48, and Daniel McCreadie, 31, were also shot and killed, police said.
Anthony Michael Pisano, 43, has been arrested and charged with three counts of first-degree murder in connection with the killings.
The shooting pushed Anchorage's 2017 homicide count to 28, compared to 34 in all of 2016. The latest incident has once again pushed the mayor and the Anchorage Police Department to reassure nervous citizens that Anchorage is a safe place to live.
Police Chief Justin Doll said in a Tuesday night interview that in general, Anchorage's killings this year have involved people who knew one another. Many cases have been tied to drugs or domestic violence, he said.
In 2016, police determined that a serial killer, James Dale Ritchie, was responsible for the deaths of five people. This year, Doll said: "I don't think there's anything remotely close to that."
Police have not publicly identified a motive in the Bullion Brothers killings, except to allege that Pisano started a fight with the co-owner before he pulled out his gun.
In a separate incident Monday morning, a man was found dead in a nearby paint shop in Spenard. Police are investigating the death as a homicide, but also have yet to describe the circumstances.