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Study's numbers don't tell whole story of city's crime

In many categories, Juneau has fewer incidents than what's reported nationally

Posted: Sunday, October 23, 2005

Even when he's out of uniform, police Lt. Jerry Nankervis said he feels safe in Juneau.

"Not as safe as I used to feel," he added.

In Juneau, a city without a reported homicide for more than five years, reported violent crime increased by 54.8 percent from 2003 to 2004. Across Alaska the number of violent crimes increased by 6.1 percent per 100,000 people.

In many categories, Juneau still had fewer incidents than what was reported nationally.

Nankervis said there doesn't seem to be a large increase in "stranger violence." He believes part of Juneau's increase reflects an increasing methamphetamine problem in the community, although the figures don't show an increase in drug violations. Evidence of that, he said, can be seen in what police are hearing from people on the streets, as well as an increase in burglaries.

A recent U.S. Department of Justice report shows violent crime dropped 2.2 percent nationally, despite Alaska's increase.

Alaska hasn't yet released its report on crime for 2004 with an analysis of what the numbers might mean, said Greg Wilkinson, public information officer for the state troopers. Just looking at the numbers, though, he noted that only the number and rates of aggravated assaults showed an increase. Adjusted for population growth, murders and non-negligent homicides decreased by 6.2 percent in Alaska last year. At 5.6 homicides per 100,000 people, Alaska's homicide rate is slightly higher than the national rate of 5.5.

But while the national average for aggravated assaults was down 1.5 percent to 291.1 per 100,000, Alaska's rate in the category was up 10.6 percent, increasing to 475.6 per 100,000.

Even with last year's increase, Juneau still had a lower rate of aggravated assaults than the rest of the state. With a population of 100,000, Juneau would have had about 316 aggravated assaults last year.

But Juneau recorded a larger increase. The number of reported aggravated assaults - those serious enough to be considered felony crimes - increased by 75 percent, from 56 in 2003 to 98 in 2004, according to figures provided by Juneau police.

Robberies and sexual assault, the other two categories of violent crimes, were down statewide, according to the report.

The numbers don't reflect a growing drug problem. Drug violations reported in Juneau dropped by about 3.7 percent, from 109 in 2003 to 105 in 2004. But police are hearing about an increasing methamphetamine problem in Juneau, Nankervis said.

Also, police have found in people's vehicles and homes things that can be used to make the drug, such as large amounts of Sudafed, an over-the-counter decongestant.

No methamphetamine labs have been discovered in Juneau in the last couple of years, Nankervis said. But that doesn't mean they're not around.

"It's a bigger challenge than finding a marijuana crop," he said. Methamphetamine labs can be set up and taken down quickly. They can be moved around and even set up in the wilderness.

Methamphetamine and cocaine are drugs that could generate more aggravated assaults because of the nature of their effects, Nankervis said. An increased drug problem also could generate more nonviolent property crimes, he said.

Reported burglaries increased by 63 percent, from 100 in 2003 to 163 in 2004. That covers residential and commercial burglaries. Vehicle break-ins are generally reported in the same category as shoplifting, the largest single category of crime reported in Juneau.

Still, adjusting for population, there remain fewer burglaries in Alaska than there are nationwide and fewer burglaries in Juneau than there are across Alaska. The same holds true for robberies.

Reported thefts and larcenies increased about 6.9 percent, from 1,105 in 2003 to 1,181 in 2004.

Nankervis said people tell police methamphetamine is available, but not who it's available from. One advantage Juneau police have in responding to crime is that the city has a stable population cut off from other communities.

"You can't disappear in Juneau," he said. But that also can dissuade people from sharing worries they might have about things their neighbors are doing, because they can't disappear either.

Also factoring into Juneau's violent-crime increase was a category of sexual assaults, which includes child molesting, some of which are reported more than a year after they are alleged to have happened.

Reported sexual assaults increased by about 21.9 percent, from 32 in 2003 to 39 in 2004. With the statistics reflecting the year the crimes were reported and not necessarily the year they were alleged to have been committed, the increase could mean people are getting better at reporting such offenses.

Even the number of minor property crimes may be deceptive compared to a larger city, Nankervis explained. People in Juneau report change being stolen from their unlocked vehicles, while people in big cities might expect to be victimized if they left their cars unlocked.

"Everyone wants to believe they live in a safe community," Nankervis said. Generally, they have reason to feel that way, he added.

• Tony Carroll can be reached at tony.carroll@juneauempire.com.

Crime statistics

Reported crimes. The rate per 100,000 people appears in parentheses.

UNITED STATES

Year

Homicide

Aggravated Assault

Sexual Assault

Robbery

2003

16,528 (5.7)

859,030 (295.4)

93,883 (32.3)

414,235 (142.5)

2004

16,137 (5.5)

854,911 (291.1)

94,635 (32.2)

401,326 (136.7)

Inc./dec.

-3.3%

-1.5%

-0.2%

-4.1%

ALASKA

Year

Homicide

Aggravated Assault

Sexual Assault

Robbery

2003

39 (6.0)

2,787 (429.9)

605 (93.3)

446 (68.8)

2004

37 (5.6)

3,117 (475.6)

558 (85.1)

447 (68.2)

Inc./dec.

-6.2%

+10.6%

-8.8

-0.9%

JUNEAU

Year

Homicide

Aggravated Assault

Sexual Assault

Robbery

2003

0 (0)

56 (180.6)

32 (103.2)

5 (16.1)

2004

0 (0)

98 (316.1)

39 (125.8)

7 (22.6)

Inc./dec.

0%

+75%

+21.9%

+40%



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