The FBI's annual roundup of crimes around the country released last week shows large changes in two categories of serious reported crimes in Alaska: a 20 percent increase in murder and a decrease of about 15 percent in rape.
Twenty percent sounds like a lot, but Alaska's small population factors into that spike, and a one-year spike doesn't necessarily indicate a long-term trend, says one expert.
For murders and non-negligent homicides, the number reported by police statewide increased 20.6 percent -- 41 such crimes were reported in 2014, compared to 34 in 2013, according to Crime in the United States 2014, also called the Uniform Crime Report.
"I don't want to minimize the value of human life. Every life is a tragedy, and we can take the increase as bad," said Troy Payne, assistant professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage Justice Center. "But when you're talking about a one-year difference of less than 10 (murders), I'm not overly concerned from a public standpoint."
Payne said long-term data is more telling. The average number of total murders and non-negligent homicides since 2010 fluctuated around 32, according to the Alaska Department of Public Safety's own crime report, which is used when the FBI compiles its annual statistics. Looking back further, a Justice Center study from 2013 found the homicide rate in Alaska fell by more than half over nearly three decades.
"The bigger question is what will happen in 2015" and the years after, Payne said.
The Anchorage Police Department submitted rape data under the FBI's old and new definitions of rape. It was the only police department in the state to do so, the DPS report said. The revised definition, which was introduced in last year's report, expanded rape to cover victims of both sexes, rather than just women, and also reflected the various forms of sexual penetration understood to be rape, officials said at that time. The change raised Alaska's already-high rape rate.
Despite those changes, the rape category in the FBI's report doesn't encompass all types of sex assaults defined by state law, said troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters.
In 2014, rape in Alaska decreased under both definitions. Reported rapes submitted under the revised definition totaled 771 for the year, about 150 fewer reported rapes than the previous year. Under the "legacy" definition, Alaska law enforcement reported 555 rapes, a 15.5 percent decrease, according to the newest crime stats.
The drop in the number of reported rapes under both definitions may be due to the method of reporting. Whatever was counted under the old definition likely was counted with the new definition, Payne said.
Alaska saw declines in property crime and larceny-theft of 4.1 percent and 7 percent, respectively. Increasing crimes included aggravated assault, vehicle theft and burglary, the latter of which saw the largest bump after murder at 8 percent, according to the UCR.
The blanket category of violent crime that includes murders, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults fell by half a percentage point. That's similar to a national 0.2-percent decrease in violent crimes over the previous year, the FBI said.
The 2014 report for the first time included data from a few federal agencies and FBI arrests involving human trafficking, hate crimes and computer hacking. The year's report also includes the second annual human trafficking report compiled from state and local data.
The former report lists six human trafficking arrests by the Anchorage FBI field office, which didn't report any hate crime or hacking arrests. The FBI noted that reporting for these crimes would expand over time, which in turn could provide a more complete picture.
The more detailed human trafficking report breaks down those offenses into two categories -- commercial sex acts and involuntary servitude. There were 11 offenses reported under commercial sex acts, and three of those had been "cleared," generally meaning someone was arrested, charged and turned over to the court for prosecution.
No offenses were reported in the forced servitude category.
FBI Director Jim Comey said in a prepared statement the agency also plans to start collecting data about nonfatal officer-involved shootings. Once that initiative is underway, the UCR will include a special section on use of force in those shootings, outlining facts about each incident.