Why Juneau’s rape stats tripled in one year

The number of reported rapes in Juneau nearly tripled from 2014 to 2015. That increase is from more rapes being reported, but also because the Juneau Police Department had been undercounting rapes in its annual report.

“We did have an increase in rapes,” said Juneau Police Chief Bryce Johnson. “For the 23 rapes that were reported in 2014 to 68 in 2015, which is almost a 200 percent increase.”

He said the sharp increase in rapes is different than other crimes in the annual report because as a crime, rape is different.

“We don’t have one victim of a car theft who had 20 cars stolen,” he said. “An amount of time the crime can occur in rape cases is much higher than other cases.”

But until last year, if a single rape victim were violated 20 times, it might have been counted as one rape case. Now, each instance is being counted.

The issue was highlighted after staff members received updated training last year.

“What they discovered when they were counting the rape cases is that what they were supposed to be doing is counting each time it occurred, not the victim,” he said.

Johnson said the change doesn’t affect how officers respond to the crime or how the cases are prosecuted. But this does help JPD get a better understanding of what’s going on in the community.

If the old victim-based counting method were applied to 2015, the stats would still show a 135 percent increase in rapes. Johnson added, it’s not necessarily a bad thing that more rapes are being reported, since it’s a historically underreported crime.

There’s a uniform crime reporting system, or UCR, outlined by the FBI that law enforcement agencies must follow.

Christen McClure works for the Department of Public Safety’s UCR program. She said that when it comes to spotting trends in crime data, the numbers alone don’t tell the whole story.

“Those raw numbers don’t necessarily reflect that and the agencies, of course have to protect the identities of their victim, because they need to protect anonymity,” McClure said. “It is important to keep that in mind when you look at increases and decreases.”

For example, crimes might’ve spanned years. But when it comes to the annual report, the total number of crimes will be included in the single year it’s reported.

McClure said that while JPD and other police departments might report data differently in their local reports, UCR is the standard.

And right now, the FBI accepts two reporting systems for law enforcement — a summary reporting system, which Alaska uses and has been around since the early 1900s, and a more recent one called the incident-based reporting system.

Lisa Purinton is a program coordinator with DPS.

“The summary based system is basically exactly that, it’s a summary of crime incidents,” she said.

For an example of how cases would be reported in the system, Purinton said, think of a single case involving a burglary, a robbery and an assault.  In the summary system, the only crime reported would be the robbery, since it’s the most severe crime.

She said eventually, Alaska will switch to the incident-based system, which would report three crimes in that example.

Purinton said that change, mandated by the FBI by 2021, will take some time and a lot of training.

Johnson said the goal is to be honest with the community.

“We want to be a transparent organization; we don’t want to underreport the crime,” he said. “We’re just trying to give an accurate representation to the community about what’s happening in the community.”

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