In a private meeting Wednesday night, a group of Anchorage business owners fiercely questioned Alaska legislators, the district attorney and a police union representative about their growing frustrations with Alaska's criminal justice reform bill and what they see as out-of-control crime.
The meeting at a downtown marketing agency was organized by Shawn Williams, owner of an event production business. He said his friends who own businesses have complained of increases in theft and other property crime, without consequence.
"In general, almost everybody has had something stolen from them," Williams said.
The group might explore organizing an effort to get Senate Bill 91 changed or repealed, he said.
One of the most vocal people in attendance was Scott Stansbury, owner of Device Pitstop, an electronics sale and repair shop at Arctic Boulevard and 36th Avenue.
"It's like a war zone over there. Just in our shopping center alone there have been more than 12 break-ins in the last 18 months," he said.
Stansbury said his business had been burglarized three times in the last year and a half, at a loss of $65,000 beyond what insurance covered.
"We need to get rid of SB 91," he said. "Throw it out."
Clint Campion, the outgoing Anchorage district attorney, told the group he was not supportive of a full repeal of the bill. But he took issue with some of its provisions, including one that makes first-time C-level felonies, such as vehicle theft, punishable with probation rather than jail time.
SB 91 was intended to address problems like high recidivism and incarceration rates, he said. Some of the frustration seems to be around what it doesn't do, Campion said.
"It doesn't address the idea of community condemnation for crime," he said.
The Anchorage district attorney's office has 45 homicide cases in various stages of prosecution, Campion said.
"We're on triage," he said. "Property crimes are not going to get the attention they need.
Much of the meeting was spent in a struggle between anecdote and data.
Brad Myrstol, a University of Alaska Anchorage professor and director of the Alaska Justice Information Center, said making changes to SB 91 before enough time had passed to gather data on whether it was doing what it was designed to do — control exploding criminal justice system costs and increase safety by reducing recidivism — would make it more difficult to evaluate.
"It's only been a year. We just don't know yet," Myrstol said.
Myrstol told the audience that data shows pronounced increases in some categories of crime reported to the Anchorage Police Department, such as vehicle theft. But those trends started long before SB 91 was conceived — in the case of vehicle thefts, they've been rising since 2011, he said.
Some in the audience questioned whether those numbers truly captured what is happening. Some people have grown so fed up they've stopped reporting problems to police, said Phyllis Kruger, who works in real estate.
"I have had people come in and pull guns on my employees," said Kathy Honeysett of Wee B's, a South Anchorage restaurant. "And I am sick and tired of it. And I feel I am at the point where I am going to have to do whatever it takes myself."
The meeting was livestreamed on the Facebook page of the organizer's business, Five Star Entertainment. Two and a half hours in, about 20 people were watching.
State Rep. Charisse Millett, an Anchorage Republican, said the bill will be debated at the Oct. 23 special legislative session called by Gov. Bill Walker.