Despite continued instances of violence being reported on a near-weekly basis in Anchorage in recent months, Anchorage police say a task force created in the wake of a spike in violent crimes earlier this year has made progress, making more than two dozen arrests and seizing contraband in numerous cases.
Deputy Anchorage Police Chief Myron Fanning said Monday that the task force has resulted in the arrests of dangerous criminals. But the group will remain intact until the police department "is comfortable with the numbers," he said.
"We'll keep the task force intact for as long as we deem necessary … Once we no longer have a spike, we'll no longer have the task force," Fanning said.
Asked if the spike has persisted since January, a month in which four homicides occurred in Anchorage, Fanning said it had "dropped off." February and March have each had two homicides. Since the task force was formed in late January, there have been at least 10 instances of gun violence or gunfire in Anchorage and the surrounding area. A man was also stabbed and killed at a Spenard trailer Monday morning.
Fanning said six out of seven homicide cases were solved thanks to the task force and assisting agencies. The Monday morning stabbing death that allegedly involved two intoxicated roommates isn't tied to the force, he said.
The unsolved case is a double homicide. The deaths of Krystal Elizabeth Hawk, 23, and Christian Haynes, 27, were Anchorage's second and third homicides of 2015.
Police arrived at the 6000 block of East 41st Court shortly after 3:30 a.m. Jan. 27 and found Haynes already dead of gunshot wounds. Hawk was taken to an Anchorage hospital, where she died at 5 a.m.
The deaths may be connected to previous violent crimes, police said.
All but two of the seven homicide cases are independent of each other, Fanning said. Makur Chan, 19, faces homicide charges in two killings resulting from alleged drug deals gone wrong.
The task force, announced by Police Chief Mark Mew in late January, consists of 15 officers from three special units. The force works with federal agencies such as the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, as well as local law enforcement and prosecutors.
As of Thursday, officers involved with the task force had made 26 arrests and seized 40 guns and five vehicles.
All of the cases tied to shooting incidents involved drugs or alcohol, Fanning said. And all of the individuals are engaged in "high-risk lifestyles" -- using drugs and hanging around dangerous places, he said.
For example, the task force arrested an unidentified suspect wanted on three felony warrants on March 6. Two ounces of meth were found when the suspect was arrested.
Police have seized about half a pound of methamphetamine, 42 grams of heroin and $35,000. Other various drugs like marijuana edibles and morphine were seized as well.
Mayor Dan Sullivan said Anchorage is a safe city, despite the concerns of residents and law enforcement.
"We always caution folks when there's a spike," Sullivan said. "That doesn't really mean Anchorage has become more dangerous, because the overall trend is really good."
Police presented data at the press conference that said the rates of murder and aggravated assault from 2009 to 2013 declined from the five years preceding it.
The homicide rate fell from 5.8 per 100,000 residents to 4.7, according to the data.
By the end of 2015, five police academies will have been conducted in three years. That will allow the police department to practice more proactive community policing, Sullivan said.
Fanning said community policing is a priority for the department. The practice decreases preventable crimes, he said. Still, the deputy chief said the exact reason for the spate of shootings and homicides remains an unknown.
"I've been with the police department for over 23 years, and every once in a while we have spikes," he said.
"I don't know the answer."