The rise of property crimes in Nikiski has left many residents on edge and more alert about what has taken place in their community the last two months.
Rumors of a man shot in an attempted burglary Tuesday night were false, said Alaska State Trooper Kevin Vik. Troopers responded to a report of gunshots fired outside a residence on Miller Loop Tuesday. But, rather than the reports of a violent crime which circulated on social media, the incident was an unsuccessful suicide attempt, said trooper spokesperson Megan Peters.
Since mid-September, law enforcement agencies have arrested 13 people in connection to theft and drug charges. From Nikiski to Kasilof combined efforts from troopers, Kenai Police and Soldotna Police have led to the recovery of five stolen vehicles, four truckloads of stolen property and three vehicles impounded pending search warrants, according to a trooper dispatch.
“We have sent a lot of people to Wildwood lately,” said Soldotna Trooper Sgt. James Truesdell. “We can’t promise how long they will be there.”
At a Nikiski Community Council meeting Monday, a committee of 13 community members was formed to discuss ways to address the recent rise in crime in the area. Nikiski council member Fred Miller said the committee would bring back recommendations to advise the council and formulate a plan.
Nikiski resident Ann Krogseng, who organized a previous town hall meeting to address the thefts, said while the community voted down a law enforcement service area for Nikiski in a referendum in 2004, the area’s demographic has changed and action needs to be taken.
“Today is a new day,” she said.
Truesdell said the Nikiski Fire Department has offered up space and equipment needed for a trooper substation in Fire Station 2. The station is located across the street from M&M Market on the Kenai Spur Highway. The market was burglarized in August.
The space would be sufficient for a trooper to work from, but Truesdell said current staffing levels prevent a trooper from being stationed there permanently.
While trooper Capt. Andy Greenstreet said he received a commitment from Kenai District Attorney Scot Leaders to prosecute property crimes to the fullest extent, Nikiski residents are not convinced the justice system is doing enough to keep repeat offenders out of the community.
Nikiski resident Norm Olson, who signed up for the committee, said repeat felons get “a slap on the wrist and sent back into the community.” He suggested banishing convicted criminals from the area until they can prove to be productive members of the community.
“What about protecting property owners who pay taxes for service and protection,” he said. “We need to get to the root of the problem and drive (felons) out of the community. Like, the opposite of a welcome wagon.”
Truesdell said heroin seems to be the drug of choice in the area.
“We have seen a huge upsurge throughout the peninsula,” he said.
The drug has played a role in several recent arrests including an Oct. 4 incident during which Denis Straughn, 43, of Soldotna was arrested for vehicle theft and possession of heroin.
Soldotna Police were on the lookout for a 2008 blue GMC Sierra after the owner told them it was stolen overnight. He said he’d accidently left the keys in the ignition. Three hours after it was reported stolen, a trooper located the vehicle driving toward Kenai on Kalifornsky Beach Road, according to a trooper affidavit.
The driver was identified as Straughn, who did not have a valid driver’s license. The truck had a different license plate, which was classified as “junked” and a run of the vehicle identification number revealed the truck as the one reported stolen.
Straughn was arrested for vehicle theft in the first degree.
In addition to the theft charge, Straughn was also charged with two counts of misconduct involving a controlled substance in the fourth-degree after a leather jacket was found with a hypodermic needle filled with liquid in the jacket pocket along with a box of cigarettes that had five small baggies that contained a crystalline substance. The substance tested positive for heroin, according to the report.
Vehicle theft and heroin possession are class C felonies and each count carries a maximum prison sentence of five years in jail and $50,000 fine.
Olson, who is co-founder of the Alaska Citizen’s Militia, said the rural borough areas are in need of a sheriff’s department before the drug community gets worse.
“One of these days a kid’s going to end up dead from a drug overdose and the attitude of the community will change,” he said. “It’s more dangerous is we do nothing.”
Troopers Casey Hershberger and Matt Ezell, two members of the property crime suppression unit, attended the Nikiski community meeting Monday and spoke to residents about what information the community could provide to assist in their investigations.
Hershberger said in 90 percent of the tips he receives, people tell him where the drug houses are and who is distributing. He said that is not enough to lead to arrests.
“We know where the drug houses are but what I know and what I can prove are two different things,” he said. “The court needs probable cause.”
Hershberger said being a good witness and recognizing characteristics of a drug user would help provide helpful tips, such as:
— Drug users can be energetic and fidgety or pale and sickly if they suffer from withdrawls.
— Provide timely information to troopers and provide name, time and location.
— Be aware of strange vehicles parked on dead end roads at odd hours.
— Look for physical evidence of drug paraphernalia left in the area like syringes, tooter straws or pen casings used to smoke drugs off tinfoil.
— Be aware of your neighbor’s frequent visitors and how long they stay and what type of vehicle they drive.
Truesdell told the residents to be a good witness and not put themselves in harm’s way unless someone’s life is in danger. Tips are time sensitive and if a known felon is seen in an area, call troopers immediately.
“Tips are like fruit, the longer it sits, the worse it gets,” he said.
Alaska State Troopers: 907-262-4453
Kenai Police Department: 907-283-7879
Soldotna Police Department: 907-262-4455
Crime Stoppers: 907-283-TIPS or 1-800-478-HALT.
Reach Dan Balmer at email@example.com.