Police are crediting aggressive law enforcement and federal help for a big drop in the number of cars stolen in Anchorage.
“Vehicle thefts have drastically reduced in 2018,” said Anchorage Police Department Lt. Jack Carson, who spoke at a Wednesday meeting of the Birchwood Community Council.
Vehicle thefts hit an 18-month low in October, with 189 reports. That’s down from a high of 370 in January 2018 and the fewest since May 2017, when 179 vehicles were reported stolen.
“It’s way better than it was,” he said.
Anchorage car thefts, which averaged fewer than three per day in 2014, began to spike in late 2015. In 2017, 3,122 cars were stolen — or nearly nine per day.
The surge continued into the first half of 2018, with month-over-month increases through June. But both overall and month-to-month reports declined every month from July through October, the most recent month figures were available.
Theft reports might have declined, but arrests haven’t. Despite the lower number of reports, police made 51 car theft arrests in October, fifth most since the surge began.
That’s not by accident. When a vehicle is reported stolen, Carson said, APD is now bringing detectives in to investigate, which allows police to make stronger cases. APD has also gotten a boost in support from the federal government, which Carson said has been enthusiastically prosecuting anyone whose crimes might fall under their jurisdiction.
“Any chance we can take them federal, we’re taking them federal,” he said.
In one case, officers followed a known criminal for six hours before the man committed a violation, Carson said. When they pulled him over, officers found drugs and were able to make a federal case. In another high-profile case, federal government is prosecuting five men accused of kidnapping another man and holding him in a dog kennel. The men are facing potential life sentences in federal court.
“I don’t think they’ll ever see the light of day,” Carson said.
And more help is on the way. In May, Alaska became the 50th state to be designated a federal High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area after a request from then-Gov. Bill Walker -- a designation that has freed up access to a pool of $250 million in federal grant money.
Carson said the amount of funding coming into Anchorage will be significant. “They’re offering millions,” he said.
The money will be used to set up a coordination office and will allow APD to work more closely with state and federal law enforcement agencies.
Other anti-crime measures that seem to be paying dividends, he said, include efforts like “retail blitzes,” in which officers assist merchants in busting shoplifters, and the creation of a new Investigative Support Unit, which searches for people with warrants and other violent offenders.
“Two years ago, we didn’t even have those units,” he said.