One of the focal points in Anchorage’s recent mayoral election was crime, and wrangling with questions over whether or not it is on the rise in the municipality as a result of policy decisions.
Outgoing Mayor Dan Sullivan held a press conference Tuesday at City Hall to explain that statistics for the last year tell a more optimistic story than the one on the campaign trail.
Standing with Police Chief Mark Mew, Sullivan said that major crimes are down overall. Based on the Uniform Crime Reporting standards set by the FBI, incidents went from 14,476 to 14,136, a decline of about 2 percent.
But the numbers come with caveats.
Though serious crimes like homicide, sexual assaults, and theft nudged slightly down from 2013 to 2014, it was not in every category. For example, aggravated assaults were up by 14 percent, vehicle theft by 8 percent. What’s more, many of the categories hit lows relatively recently in 2010 and 2011, but have been persistently rising since.
Sullivan, however, prefers looking at the data in a 5-year average, which puts the frequency of violent crime below that of the previous mayor’s administration.
But critics believe it was investments in the police department during the Begich administration which caused the biggest declines, and that short staffing in the department has led to less follow up on low-priority complaints. And hence, less data points.
For his part, Sullivan has said the city could not afford a force that size, and that he does not believe there is a correlation between spending on APD and incidents of crime. Quality decisions on where to put officers makes a bigger difference than mere quantity, he told reporters.
Incoming mayor Ethan Berkowitz campaigned on expanding the size of the police force to stem what many perceive as a rise in crime across the city. Though firm plans on financing that proposal have not yet been released, police chief Mew says new officers coming out of the academies will be deployed according to recommendations made in the 2010 PERF report .