"Higher crime. Higher taxes." Mailers paid for by the Republican Governors Association slam Democratic nominee Mark Begich for an alleged increase in crime during his six years as Anchorage mayor. Specifically, the ads by independent expenditure group Families for Alaska's Future say robbery and assault increased 55 percent on Begich's watch.
What do public records numbers show? A review of FBI Uniform Crime Reports for the six years before Begich took office, his two terms as mayor, and the six years after he left office show a mixed bag when it comes to crime stats.
Here's what we found, based on a database created earlier this year to report on soaring property crime in Anchorage.
Average number of offenses in key crime categories in the six years before Begich took office (1997-2002)
— Murders: 16.8
— Robberies: 397.3
— Assaults: 4164.2
— Burglaries: 1625.2
— Vehicle thefts: 1214.8
Average annual offenses during Begich's time as mayor (2003-2008)
— Murders: 16
— Robberies: 417.5
— Assaults: 4404
— Burglaries: 1503
— Vehicle thefts: 1179.3
Averages for the six years after Begich left office (2009-2014)
— Murders: 13.3
— Robberies: 516.2
— Assaults: 5820.2
— Burglaries: 1294.5
— Vehicle thefts: 824.2
As for Begich, one statistic that his campaign often cites is the assertion that Alaska is "No. 1 on crime nationwide." That claim, like the pro-Dunleavy group's ad, is based on numbers Anchorage police report to the FBI for the Uniform Crime Reports. Dunleavy also has called Alaska the most dangerous state in the country in campaign literature and social media ads.
There is a problem with those rankings, however. Each year the FBI warns against making state-by-state or regional comparisons based on Uniform Crime Reports because they "provide no insight into the many variables that mold the crime in a particular town, city, county, state." There is a difference, in other words, between tracking crime rates in a particular city over time versus comparing much larger and smaller population areas and concluding which is "more dangerous." Alaska's small population often makes it an outlier in per capita comparisons among states
Nevertheless, one of the primary sources for the Alaska-is-worst claim appears to be a listicle on the website 24/7 Wall Street that made the comparison using the FBI numbers for violent crimes per 100,000 people in each state.
US News & World Report also publishes a ranking of states based on FBI crime rates — despite the FBI admonishments — placing Alaska as No. 49, second worst in the nation, and New Mexico as 50th, when accounting for both property crime and violent crime.