Anchorage mayor wants help to curb gang crime

Posted: Thursday, October 19, 2006

ANCHORAGE - Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich called for more state help in holding down gang crime in his city, including a new law that would put ankle bracelets on the legs of gang members on probation.

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After consecutive summers of increased gang activity in Anchorage, the mayor told the Downtown Rotary Club, he wants to make a dent in the city's gang population.

Begich criticized the state for not doing enough to fight the increasing violent crime and said he wants to go after Anchorage's repeat criminals, including the ones out on bail awaiting trial who commit more crimes.

He noted youth offenders who have driving-under-the-influence and reckless driving violations but are still on the roads causing accidents, and offenders who allow their homes to become crack houses or sites where stolen goods are fenced.

Begich and his newly appointed police chief, Rob Heun, have said more must be done by lawmakers to help Alaska's largest city.

"We are going out there and putting people in jail," Heun said after the mayor's speech. "The problem is the system doesn't have the proper resources to absorb them."

Begich said the Anchorage district attorney's office has more than 1,600 felony cases awaiting action. As of January, there were 300 felony trials pending in Anchorage, he said.

Begich said too often those awaiting trial in a backlogged court system get out of jail and repeat the same crimes.

Begich said he plans to press the Legislature to hire more prosecutors and public defenders to move defendants through the court system and unplug the backlog. He also wants the state to address prison overcrowding.

"And you can pass all the laws you want to, but if the police are overloading the system, the system is not working," Heun said, of the need from the state to fund more prosecutors and public defenders. "We need to engage the Legislature to look at the overall criminal justice system."

John McConnaughy, Anchorage's municipal prosecutor, told KTUU-TV that the city and state want trials of gang members moved to federal court.

"The lengthy sentences will essentially take them out of the community," he said. "That will remove them for long periods of time and disrupt the functioning of the gangs themselves."

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