There were more than three times as many homicides in Anchorage by September of last year than there were in the same time frame this year, according to data provided by the Anchorage Police Department.
In 2020, six people have died of homicide since January and one teen was fatally shot by police. By September of 2019, 20 people were slain across the city and three men were shot by police.
Not only has the homicide rate dropped, Anchorage Police Chief Justin Doll said recently, but most types of crime have also seen reductions this year.
Doll said during an Anchorage Public Safety Committee meeting last week that he didn’t attribute most of the downward trend to impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather, he applauded the department’s efforts over the last few years to partner with community organizations to curb crime and noted that there are many factors that contribute to crime increases or decreases.
“I get asked frequently if all of this downward trending stuff is as a result of coronavirus, and I generally say, ‘I don’t think so because we saw these trends begin at the end of last year, or maybe last fall, and continue into this year,’ ” Doll said.
Across the country, several major cities reported drops in crime as many Americans are spending more time at home and going out less because of the pandemic. In cities such as Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., overall crime rates dropped by more than 30% during the pandemic, according to data compiled by a University of Pennsylvania law and economics professor, though not all of the 27 cities included in the data showed similar declines in crime. Shooting and homicide rates in the cities that were studied appeared to be unchanged during the pandemic, the data showed.
Last week, Doll noted that the only Anchorage crime category he believes was directly impacted by the pandemic was shoplifting. Many stores closed for significant periods of time under Anchorage mandates intended to help curb the spread of the virus.
Property and violent crime rates have trended downward throughout the last three years. Doll said the trend was continuing as expected in the early months of 2020, even before COVID-19 hit Alaska.
Doll said there are several ways that crime rates are measured. During the recent Public Safety Committee meeting, he showed Assembly members data from this year spanning from January to the end of July compared to the same time period during the last three years. The calls for service are a tally of how many calls for service in each crime category are reported by the community. The department also collects Uniform Crime Reporting numbers at the end of the year. That data is submitted to federal agencies to help look at crime rates and trends nationwide.
“I think calls for service is a good representation of what the community feels like because this is what people are reporting to us,” Doll said last week. “And so when we talk about crime rates or does it feel like things are getting better or getting worse, I think calls for service are a good indicator.”
During the last three years, calls for service related to property crime have steadily decreased. Police received roughly half of the property crime calls in 2020 that they responded to in 2017. There were 5,692 calls for service related to theft, stolen vehicles, burglaries, vandalism and shoplifting in 2017 from January through July, and 3,119 calls during the same time frame in 2020.
Violent crime rates have also trended downward or at least remained relatively consistent, Doll said. Police have consistently been called to fewer reported assaults during the last few years, with 1,743 calls in 2017 and 1,508 calls during the same time period this year. The number of sexual assault calls for service increased during 2018 and 2019, but decreased this year.
Data about calls for service related to domestic violence was not immediately available. Domestic violence shelters around the state reported a surge in calls in the early months of the pandemic.
The most significant change this year is the decrease in homicides.
Anchorage had no homicides during January, February or August in 2020. During the five other months, there was a total of six homicides. Police have charged suspects in four of the six cases, but two homicides are still under investigation. Police spokesman MJ Thim said Friday that there were no updates on the open cases.
In March, 71-year-old Rose Warren was fatally stabbed in a South Anchorage residence, police said.
In early April, 27-year-old Ionatana Toa was dropped off at a hospital for a serious gunshot wound. Police said he died of his injuries.
In May, 31-year-old William Porter was fatally stabbed by a woman inside an East Anchorage home following a verbal altercation. Police questioned the woman, but charges had not been filed as of September.
Andrew Alston, 19, was shot to death by his neighbor during an argument that spurred over a dog. Alston was tending to another man who had been shot in the head when he was killed, police said.
On the Fourth of July, 66-year-old Donald Jordan was fatally shot while sitting in a lawn chair in the Mountain View neighborhood, according to police.
Five days later, 23-year-old Monica Jeffries was fatally shot during an altercation in a Midtown Anchorage parking lot, police said. No arrests had been made as of early September.
“These aren’t random crimes,” Thim said. “These are crimes where people were acquainted with each other in some way, there seemed to be a drug component and a domestic component to many of them.”
Investigators considered the June death of 83-year-old John T. Brown to be suspicious, but Thim said the investigation is ongoing and no arrests have been made. Police investigated two other suspicious deaths this year but ultimately ruled out homicide, Thim said.
By September last year, Anchorage police had investigated 20 homicides and three fatal officer-involved shootings. By the end of 2019, 34 people died of homicide and three men were fatally shot by police. The year left a grim mark on Anchorage, nearly reaching the record number of slayings in a single year. Eight of the cases are still unsolved, Thim said.
There were 37 homicide victims in 2017, the most recorded in recent years. In 2018, 30 people died of homicide.
The lowest number of homicides recorded during the past 15 years was 12 in 2008, according to Thim.
Police are hopeful that 2020 will continue to see low crime rates.
“One homicide is way too many for us,” Thim said.
[Because of a high volume of comments requiring moderation, we are temporarily disabling comments on many of our articles so editors can focus on the coronavirus crisis and other coverage. We invite you to write a letter to the editor or reach out directly if you’d like to communicate with us about a particular article. Thanks.]