Crime on the rise in Kenai

Crime is up in Kenai and the city’s police chief is concerned it may have to do with recent criminal justice reform.

Kenai Police Chief Dave Ross said that while pinning down the exact cause of increased crime is difficult, he believes there’s a correlation between the passage of Senate Bill 91 in July 2016 and the across-the-board increases in crime police have seen in Kenai.

“I do believe that rapid reductions in incarcerations have played a role in increased reports of crime,” Ross said. “It’s not unusual for us to arrest the same individuals within the same span of the time when they would be incarcerated.”

Intended to reduce recidivism and focus on incarcerating the most serious and violent of criminals, SB 91 enacted a number of sweeping reforms to the state’s criminal justice system, including changes to classifications and sentences for crimes, the addition of pretrial and probation services and an emphasis on rehabilitation and treatment for criminals with substance abuse problems, according to the State of Alaska Department of Law. A second piece of legislation, SB 54, was signed into law in November 2017 amending some changes made in SB 91.

Since the first phases of SB 91 took effect, prison populations decreased by 9.38 percent — from 4,658 in July 2016 to 4,221 in July 2017, according to the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission Annual Report released Oct. 22. Admissions for non-violent misdeamors dropped by 19.5 percent and non-violent felonies by 9 percent, according to the report.

In a Jan. 5 memorandum to Kenai City Manager Paul Ostrander, Ross noted that the types of crimes on the rise in Kenai correspond with the reduction in incarceration rates for those crimes.

Property crime, in particular, shot up significantly.

From 2015–2016, the number of cases of trespassing and real property crime showed no increase. Between 2016 and 2017, however, those crimes were up by 75 percent — growing to 233 reports in 2017 from 133 reports in 2016.

“Nearly every crime was up,” Ross said. “But property crime really stands out.”

Vehicle thefts have risen precipitously in the last three years, according to the memo. From 2015 to 2016, vehicle theft reports were up 45 percent. Vehicle thefts were up another 48 percent from 2016 to 2017. Altogether, 43 vehicles were reported stolen in 2017, versus 20 reported stolen in 2015.

Overall, police volume call increased about 5 percent — or about 400 calls — in 2017 from the year before, compared to a 1 percent increase from 2015–2016. The “vast majority” of those calls were crime-related, according to the memo.

City Manager Paul Ostrander said he would discuss the issue at Wednesday night’s city council meeting in order to bring the issue to the community’s attention.

“This is more informational, and I do believe that it’s something our council should be aware of,” he said.

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