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Crime & Courts

Alaska crime report shows increases in most categories last year

An annual crime report released by the state Department of Public Safety shows that overall, violent and property crimes in Alaska increased in 2016.

The data used in the report, forwarded to the FBI for use in a nationwide publication, says reports of rape, robbery, aggravated assault, vehicle theft, burglary and larceny went up. Murder and arson are reported to have slightly decreased since 2015.

"Crime in Alaska 2016" lists 32 reporting agencies, which, according to its authors, represent 99.6 percent of the state's population. But smaller police departments did not participate, such as those in Galena, Kake and St. Paul, among others.

The document is a major resource for measuring crime trends and distribution statewide, but as is typical, the researchers point out that drawing conclusions is difficult when simply examining yearly fluctuations.

Based on the average number of committed crimes, the report's "crime clock" sheds light on some startling statistics. In Alaska, there is a murder every seven days, a rape every eight hours, a vehicle theft every three hours and an assault every two hours, according to the report.

Here's what the report says about the eight crime categories:

A total of 52 murders were reported by the state's law enforcement agencies in 2016, seven fewer than the previous year. That small difference in the total for the entire state, represents a murder rate decrease of about 12 percent.

Out of the 52 murders reported, 82 percent involved a firearm. The state released data in early August highlighting the state's high rate of gun deaths — 1,000 people here died by gunshots between 2009 and 2015.

Reported rapes for the year totaled 1,049, increasing the rate by 16.6 percent. The rape rate saw an almost identical increase in 2015, according to the data.

In 2013, the FBI started collecting rape data under a revised definition, raising Alaska's already high rape rate. According to this year's report, 98.5 percent of people arrested for rape were men.

There were a total of 848 reported robberies, according to the report. That's an increase in the robbery rate of 11.2 percent from 2015 to 2016. Supplemental data provided by the law enforcement agencies gives an estimated dollar value of the property lost at $637,039.

The rate of aggravated assault increased by 8.7 percent, which resulted from nearly 4,000 reports of the violent crime. The authors wrote that firearms were used in about one-fifth of those assaults.

Burglary reports jumped to 4,036, a rate increase of 14.8 percent and an estimated monetary loss of about $10 million, according to the report.

Larcenies, or theft, totaled 17,683. The theft rate increase was 16.1 percent, according to the report.

"(T)he estimated total property loss related to larceny-theft was $13,849,083; up just over $2.5 million from 2015. The average dollar loss from larceny-theft in 2016 was $783 — about $40 more than the average larceny loss in 2015," the report says.

A total of 3,049 motor vehicle thefts were reported during 2016, a nearly 50 percent increase from the previous reporting year.

This particular category of crime has hit Alaska's largest city particularly hard. Nearly 300 vehicles were stolen in each of the months of January, February and March, and roughly 200 each in April, May and June — about double the city's five-year average for car theft, Anchorage Police Department officials said.

Arsons peaked at 144 reported offenses last year. In 2015, the total number of arsons was 132, according to the report.

The data indicates that robbery, burglary and assault rates have risen over the past three years; vehicle theft has risen for the past five years.

Troy Payne, assistant professor with the Justice Center at the University of Alaska Anchorage, said increases over three or four years could be described as a trend.

"Some of the changes are enough to make me feel, I would say troubled," Payne said. "If the question is, 'Should people be worried?' Yes. We should be looking at these crime rates and figuring out what's going on, and this report is the first step in figuring that out."

If the data is accurate, it suggests something is truly causing the increases, Payne said. But it's also worth examining whether the changes are "statistical artifacts" resulting from changes in the collection of crime data, he said.

All of the data has been sent to the FBI for use in its Uniform Crime Report, said DPS spokesperson Tim DeSpain. So far, the federal agency has only released a preliminary report for 2016.

The national report may result in differences from the state's report, as the FBI modifies crime statistics based on the state's entire population, rather than the percentage represented by the reporting agencies, DeSpain said.

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