Juneau sees steep rise in property crime in 2016, police say

You hear a familiar refrain when you talk to Juneau residents about crime: This isn’t the town it used to be and crime is on the rise. Thefts, burglaries and vehicle break-ins are prevalent.

 

Those people aren’t wrong, according to statistics presented by Juneau Police Department Chief Bryce Johnson Tuesday night during a public meeting on crime in Juneau.

Most violent crimes are down or fairly static when you compare the numbers from 2015 to 2016, Johnson said, although December numbers have not yet been compiled.

“Property crime is going in absolutely the opposite direction,” Johnson told the full house in attendance at the Assembly Chambers.

Overall, he said, there has been a 28 percent jump in property crime, with a steep rate of increase for burglary — which showed a 60 percent increase from 2014.

Police in the past have attributed the jump in thefts in part to Juneau’s drug problems —the capital city has been battling an opioid epidemic, which resulted in multiple deaths in 2015.

On Tuesday, Johnson enumerated some of the challenges his department faces, including statewide bail schedule changes and staff reductions at the District Attorney’s Office and the Department of Corrections.

Now that Senate Bill 91 has made possession of drugs such as heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine a misdemeanor, the end result is that there are not enough resources to prosecute those crimes. And that means that the police department can’t enforce those misdemeanors and can’t get offenders into the drug treatment programs they need, Johnson said.

“That’s the pickle we find ourselves in,” he said.

“There are some really good things in SB 91,” Johnson emphasized, including the move away from incarceration to treatment. “But there needs to be a stick there.”

Many crimes such as trespassing and disorderly conduct have a 24-hour cap of incarceration and suspects are released on their own recognizance, Johnson said.

“We take them to jail, they are processed and released,” he said. “They go in and they get out, quite quickly, even if we arrest them. “

Johnson also talked about some of the strategies his department is employing to increase its efficacy, including community policing and geographic policing, which links officers to “a particular piece of ground” such as Douglas or downtown.

The more officers can connect with the community, the more we can solve problems collectively, he told the audience.

The department is also working on offender-based policing, focusing on the most serious criminals, “the ones creating the most havoc,” Johnson said.

Other tactics outlined by Johnson include collaborating with other agencies, continuing to hire and train new officers, and advocating for changes in the laws.

Johnson wrapped up his presentation with a list of mostly common-sense solutions to help prevent crime. A lot of preventing property crime, he told the audience, is taking opportunity away from criminals.

“Lock your doors,” he said. Other tips: Don’t leave valuables in your vehicle or out in the yard. Define borders to your property with fences or bushes. Report suspicious behavior. Join or create a neighborhood or business crime watch group.

• Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 523-2246 or liz.kellar@juneauempire.com.

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