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Amid rising crime concerns, Mat-Su residents to talk public safety

  • Author: Zaz Hollander
  • Updated: December 28, 2016
  • Published December 28, 2016

PALMER — Valley residents will get two chances to talk about public safety and crime following a year that intensified ongoing concerns about thefts in the region, as well as a high-profile homicide.

Two Mat-Su legislators plan to host a town-hall meeting featuring Alaska Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan and other law enforcement representatives from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Curtis D. Menard Memorial Sports Center in Wasilla.

The next week, at 7 p.m. Jan. 12 at the Palmer Depot, the Palmer Police Department will hold a meeting on neighborhood watch programs.

The forums come as Valley residents combat a run of property crimes that gain constant attention through social media. A popular Facebook group, Stop Valley Thieves, allows members to post sightings of suspicious people and activity or stolen property.

Authorities have said they believe the increase in thefts and robberies is linked to the continuing rise of substance abuse, including heroin addiction in the Valley.

The meetings also occur as residents come to terms with the killing of 16-year-old David Grunwald of Palmer, who investigators say died after a group of other teenagers beat, then shot him and tried to cover up the homicide.

Grunwald's parents say they plan to attend Wednesday's Wasilla event.

Organizers of that event include Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake, who convened a similar meeting in 2013, and Rep.-elect Colleen Sullivan-Leonard, R-Wasilla.

Next week's town hall is intended as an update to that earlier meeting rather than to reflect any specific crimes, Neuman said during an interview Wednesday. But he said he heard a lot about crime while campaigning in the fall.

Neuman praised an Alaska State Troopers crime suppression unit that's survived state budget cuts. Still, he said, the declining budget has reduced total trooper staffing in the area.

"My sense from the public, they tell me they don't feel there's enough troopers on the streets," Neuman said.

The other event is planned to focus on creating new neighborhood watch programs in the city of Palmer and will include police and emergency dispatch representatives.

Currently, there are few neighborhood watches in place, according to Palmer Police Chief Lance Ketterling; a city meeting was held on the subject in 2009.

The best ones focus on small areas, Ketterling said, "where you can really get to know your neighbors. That helps a lot in itself."

Several factors led the city to plan the meeting, he said: high-profile crimes; the reach and immediacy of social media; and discussion of Senate Bill 91, the crime-reform legislation passed into law this year.

Neighborhood watches aren't meant to replace law enforcement and participants are instructed not to be vigilantes, Ketterling said.

Still, with only two or three Palmer police officers on duty at any given time, having "an extra set of eyes" in the community can help detect suspicious activity, he said.

"One call can tie up every single one of those officers depending on the type of call," Ketterling said. "We just don't have the resources to be everywhere we'd like to be. That's not unique to Palmer."

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