Property crime increased in 2016

Statewide, certain types of crime are up, and the Kenai Peninsula’s cities mostly track with that trend.

The Alaska Department of Public Safety released its annual Uniform Crime Reporting Program annual report last week, summarizing crime reports from police departments around the state, covering the year 2016. Statewide, crime went up across the board, although the number of homicides stayed exactly the same from 2015–2016.

The overall crime index, a collection of selected offense used to measure fluctuations in overall volume and rate of crime reported, increased in 2016 for both violent and property crime, according to the report. The crime rate, which is the number of crimes committed per capita in the population, also fluctuates each year and depends on the population.

“All facts are important to consider when reviewing the fluctuations in the crime index and rate variances between 2015 and 2016,” the report states. “Caution should be exercised when comparing data from year to year and making conclusions.”

In Kenai, Homer, Soldotna and Seward, reports of some types of crime increased while others decreased, according to the individual department reports. In Kenai, burglaries, theft and motor vehicle thefts all increased, according to the report. However, there were two fewer homicides in 2016 than in 2015, nine fewer rapes, one fewer robbery and 30 fewer assaults.

The Soldotna Police Department saw a slight decrease in assaults, rapes and motor vehicle thefts, but saw an increase in burglaries and other thefts, according to the department’s report. Thefts other than vehicle thefts were up significantly — the department reported 145 in 2015 and 212 in 2016.

In Homer, crime levels were almost exactly identical. Thefts were slightly down, with 177 in 2015 and 146 in 2016, according to the reports. The story is similar for the Seward Police Department, with assaults, thefts and motor vehicle thefts slightly up in 2016 and burglary slightly down.

The reports don’t include Alaska State Trooper data broken out by detachment. Troopers are the primary responders in unincorporated areas of the borough, though they can call for mutual aid from city law enforcement agencies.

The uptick in theft follows the trend across the state in the past two years, according to the report. Although it was on a downward trend with the occasional uptick, it rose in both 2015 and 2016. Robberies, burglaries, assaults and vehicle thefts have also increased for the past two years, according to the report.

“A total of 3,049 motor vehicle thefts were reported during 2016, a nearly fifty percent increase from the previous reporting year,” the report states.

Gov. Bill Walker cited the report in a call for the Legislature to pass another criminal justice reform bill during the upcoming October special session, the fourth this year. On Sept. 15, he added Senate Bill 54 to the agenda, which would give courts the ability to impose jail time for first-time class C felonies or repeat theft offenses, something the crime reform bill enacted in 2016 removed in an attempt to shift state law enforcement dollars more toward prevention than the costs of imprisoning first-time offenders.

“This would act as a potential deterrent and encourage offenders suffering from addiction to seek treatment,” the press release states.

Despite the uptick in property crime over the past two years, the long-term trend in the property crime rate is still downward, according to statistics from the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Justice Center. In 2015, the property crime rate for Alaska was lower than the 30-year average from 1985–2015, with about 2,807.2 crimes per 100,000 residents. Overall property crime, which includes burglary, general theft and motor vehicle theft, was the lowest over the 30-year period in 2011, according to a fact sheet released in February.

The violent crime rate, however, is on a long-term increase in the state, despite the stable year-over-year rate from 2015–2016, according to a UAA Justice Center fact sheet also released in February. The homicide and robbery rates decreased, but aggravated assault increased.

“Overall, the thirty-year trend reveals that the violent crime rate in Alaska increased over the period despite decreases in the overall crime rate,” the fact sheet states.

Property crime is still the majority of crime reports statewide, though, accounting or about two-thirds of crimes reported, according to the UAA Justice Center.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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