A two-day undercover sweep last week by Anchorage police netted a dozen stolen vehicles and the arrests of 25 suspects, at least one still wearing an ankle monitor.
The sweep comes as residents and authorities try to get a handle on an epidemic of stolen cars, trucks and SUVs taken from parking lots, driveways and businesses in recent years — about half of them in 2017 with keys inside or left running in winter.
The sweep by a total of 50 officers included three teams from several police units, including "most of the criminal suppression division," according to Lt. Gerard Asselin, who set up and ran the detail. The FBI, Department of Homeland Security, Drug Enforcement Administration, Alaska State Troopers and U.S. Postal Service also assisted, police said in a Wednesday alert.
Asselin put together a list of potential addresses based on where stolen vehicles had been recovered in the past and supplemented that with a "hot sheet" of current stolen vehicles.
"Then we just simply went out in the field and ran a lot of plates," he said in an interview Wednesday.
Detail members scoured places like the Dimond Center mall and Home Depot, where the sheer number of vehicles in the parking lot meant they were more likely to find stolen ones.
A dozen stolen vehicles were recovered, but the 25 arrests were not all for vehicle theft.
The arrests included 20 new felony charges, 17 new misdemeanor charges and 19 arrest warrants served, according to police.
At least one suspect was arrested wearing an electronic ankle monitor. The monitors are typically used to track defendants released from jail but still facing trial in criminal cases.
Kyle Paye, 32, was on ankle monitor for a misdemeanor weapons charge out of Palmer after he made bail a month before, a state courts database shows. He was under state Pretrial Enforcement Division supervision.
A magistrate ordered Paye to wear a GPS tracking device, but didn't specify any exclusion zones or put him on house arrest, according to Alaska Department of Corrections spokeswoman Megan Edge.
The GPS ended up coming in handy: Pretrial officers did assist in Paye's arrest and provided information to police, Edge said.
Officers stopped Paye on Thursday afternoon after spotting the wrong plates on a green 1999 Honda sedan, police said. They found a gun under the driver's seat and at least 2 ounces of methamphetamine in a backpack in the trunk.
At Paye's home on Newt Drive, they found more evidence of vehicle theft activity — a license plate from a stolen car — and five guns plus a stolen guitar, Asselin said.
Paye faces charges including first-degree vehicle theft, misconduct involving a controlled substance, and felon in possession of a weapon.
A summary of other arrests provided by police ranged from 53-year-old William Teal, arrested at the Arctic Tern Inn after being spotted on Bunnell Street in a stolen maroon 2005 Ford sedan, to eight people who poured out of two stolen vehicles spotted in the parking lot of the Econo Inn on East Fifth Avenue.
All eight were taken into custody after officers approached the gray 2015 Dodge Dart and 2017 Lincoln Continental and they ran, according to the alert. A black handgun, a large-frame Glock firearm and baggies of meth and oxycodone were recovered from the vehicles.
Police arrested occupants from 26 to 44 years old on vehicle theft, drug and weapons charges. Two of them were on probation for other crimes, but not on ankle monitoring or Pretrial Enforcement Division supervision, Edge said.
One of them, 28-year-old Yako Miska Andrew, of Anchorage, fled on foot with pistol in his hand, according to a release from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Anchorage. Andrew discarded the pistol, the Glock semi-automatic, before he was apprehended by officers.
Along with state charges, Andrew faces federal charges for illegally possessing a firearm as a convicted felon. One of his convictions was for vehicle theft, federal prosecutors say.
Officers also found drugs and weapons, according to a list of recovered items that includes meth, heroin, prescription pills and 12 guns seized.
Since 2014, more than 10,000 vehicles have been reported stolen in the municipality, according to data provided Wednesday by the Anchorage Police Department. More than 9,400 were recovered.
Soaring vehicle theft numbers — nearly 3,200 reported last year — prompted police to change strategy in January, Chief Justin Doll said in an interview Wednesday.
"We have put a lot of effort into ensuring that every time we have somebody in custody for a stolen vehicle that detectives respond," Doll said. Police are also working with state and federal prosecutors, he said.
Last week's sweep was the latest tactic, Doll said.
Compared to last year, stolen-vehicle reports dropped in the past few months, police said: 203 in September compared to 329 last year; 216 in August compared to 268.
But the same data show January through June were sharply up in comparison to last year: 2,025 this year versus 1,425 last year.
The overall trend in 2018 is down, Doll said. "We're glad to see that. I hope we're having an effect on that. Three months is good but let's see what the next three or four months brings."
Police say vehicle thefts aren't confined to one part of the municipality but occur throughout the city.
They also recommend various steps to avoid theft, including never leaving keys in an unattended vehicle, locking up, not leaving firearms inside or garage door openers that can be stolen and used to get inside someone's home.
People also should regularly check their front and rear license plates because thieves sometimes steal them or swap them with other, stolen ones.