David Ross speaks before the Kenai City Council on Saturday, April 24, 2021 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O'Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai police chief: Crime decreased amid pandemic

The total number of police service calls declined by more than 500.

Crime in the City of Kenai dropped over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kenai Police Chief David Ross said during a budget work session on Saturday.

“These are really good statistics for the city as far as [if] the pandemic did anything good,” Ross said. “It drove down crime; it drove down our call volume at the police department. If you look at the performance managers … almost every category of crime was down.”

The department’s budget shows a decrease in crime across several categories. The total number of police service calls declined by more than 500, motor vehicle collisions declined by over 90 and property crime reports declined by over 200. The number of DUI arrests increased from FY2020 to FY2021 by 17.

In reflecting on the department’s goals identified last year, Ross noted that they became more proactive about traffic patrols and successfully reinstated a school resource officer at schools, though the latter was impacted by COVID-related school closures.

Looking ahead, the department wants to increase traffic patrol hours to 5,500, maintain participation in specialty assignments — like having a school resource officer and the regional drug task force. Ross said they’re also awaiting potential policing reforms taken on the federal and state level that may impact their ability to recruit and retain staff.

Nationwide calls for policing reforms have intensified over the past year in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, who was found guilty last week on three charges and is awaiting sentencing. Ross spoke about the importance of the department’s relationship with the community in an interview with the Clarion last week.

Several Kenai City Council members voiced their support for the work KPD does for the community, with Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel saying explicitly that the city does not have plans to “defund” the department.

“You hear this ‘defund the police’ in other communities around the country and I just want to express that I hope your officers feel like they’re supported by this body,” Gabriel sad. “The consensus that I got here is that we do support this department and want to continue that to keep our community safe and secure.”

Overall, the police department’s total budget would increase by about $100,000 from the previous fiscal year, or by about 2.98%, according to the budget draft.

Council member Teea Winger thanked Ross for the department’s community policing efforts, including Crime Stoppers and Neighborhood Watch, among others.

“I just wanted to say how much I really do appreciate the neighborhood watch program … as well as just having a school resource officer,” Winger said.

The final budget will need to be passed by the Kenai City Council. The full budget draft can be viewed on the city’s website at kenai.city.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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