Crime on the rise

Saturday, October 8, 2016 - 07:28
Community gathers to stop from becoming a victim
  • More than 100 residents turned out for a Crime & Safety Townhall held Oct. 1 at the Chugiak-Eagle River Senior Center. Residents listened to topics on how to prevent, prepare and respond to crime incidents. (Photo Courtesy Chugiak-Eagle River Senior Center)

Crime is up in Alaska, according to the latest FBI Uniform Crime Report which cites statistics from 2015. While the previous year had 41 murders and non-negligent manslaughter, last year saw 59 reported cases, an increase of almost 44 percent.

The overall violent crime per capita increased 15 percent, with rape, robbery and aggravated assault up 17, 21 and 13 percent, respectively. In addition, more than 20,000 property crimes were reported, up slightly from the year before, along with 3,500 burglaries, up 11 percent. Vehicle thefts jumped more than 17 percent from the previous year.

To learn how to prepare in advance, prevent if possible, and appropriately react when events do occur, more than 100 residents gathered for a Crime & Safety Townhall held on Oct. 1 at the Chugiak-Eagle River Senior Center.

On hand were security experts and representatives from the Anchorage Police Department, Department of Corrections, Chugiak Fire Department and the Birchwood Community Patrol. Reps. Cathy Tilton and Dan Saddler were in attendance along with Anchorage Assembly members Dick Traini, Elvi Gray-Johnson and Bill Starr.

Anchorage Assembly Member Amy Demboski, who like Starr represents the Chugiak-Eagle River District 2, served as moderator for an event designed to be informative and community oriented.

A change has come

Scott Henke, CEO of Action Security, who had an info booth at the townhall, has seen a substantial rise in crime over the years, confirming the stats in the recent FBI Uniform Report. Servicing the state of Alaska, his family-owned company has been in business since 1963.

Notably, Henke did not lock doors growing up in Anchorage and now it’s the first thing he does upon returning home.

Henke suspects it will get worse due to the passage of Senate Bill 91, which reduces mandatory sentences for non-criminal offenders. Crimes which previously carried consequences are just a slap on the wrist now, he said.

“Pay a fine, don’t do any jail time, and be back on the street!” he said.

Seeing a surge in sales, clients, he said, are looking for heavy duty/high-security locks instead of the standard default to make it harder for criminals to lock bump or duplicate keys without authorization.

What is lock bumping?

Instructional videos available online have received tens of millions of views, yet the average homeowner is oblivious to this technique, Henke said. It only requires a simple yet modified key with teeth which manipulates the lock pins. It is not at all complicated. He once taught a mechanically disinclined Rotary member how to lock bump in less than a minute, proving just how easy it is.

Backyard burglaries

Assistant Fire Chief Virginia McMichael of the Chugiak Fire and Rescue has lived out here for 25 years, and never had real worry about safety in the area but that has since changed.

While out on a recent call for example, which took less than an hour, she returned to find someone had completely ransacked her husband’s truck.

“People need to stay vigilant, protect their properties and most importantly, join neighborhood watches.” — Jeff Hartley, Birchwood Community Patrol 

“I drive a command vehicle. You would think that would be a deterrent,” she said.

With an increase in burglaries, thefts, and breaking into homes, McMichael has noticed an equal increase in posts on a local Facebook watch group, inquiring about either strange vehicles riding around the neighborhood, or questions regarding suspicious individuals. Thankfully, social media allows neighbors to stay informed and band together, with real-time updates, she said.

Street sweep

Jeff Hartley founded the Birchwood Community Patrol back in 2008, due to multiple burglaries, thefts, and drug activity in the area.

The patrol’s number one goal is crime prevention, and how they accomplish this is through being noticeable in the neighborhood, highly visible in fact. In addition, members step up patrols in areas where there is criminal activity, but do not make any arrests.

Originally funded through state grants, the patrol had five members and is now down to three, all of whom have emergency response training. The patrol has applied for non-profit status; after the organization is able to raise private funds, additional members may then be recruited.

Hartley offers this basic advice to residents: “People need to stay vigilant, protect their properties and most importantly, join neighborhood watches.” (Neighborhood watches are coordinated through the APD.)

“If more are vigilant, there will be a lot less crime,” he added, which Hartley primarily attributes to drugs.

The unsafe safe

In contrast to the rest of Anchorage, Eagle River may have larger lots which inadvertently allow criminals to sneak through unguarded properties. These individuals may then spend an entire day taking valuables out in a leisurely fashion without anyone noticing. According to Henke, at least one criminal was caught inside a victim’s home, grinding down a safe with a tool found in an adjacent garage.

While homeowners do take steps to monitor potentially criminal activity, these steps may be futile when not properly implemented or the wrong equipment is used.

For example, cheap equipment can result in cheap pictures — super-grainy and super dark images which police would be unable to use to identify thieves, said Henke.

“The biggest problem is thinking a low cost camera system is going to work,” he said.

Furthermore, Henke explained, cameras are for taking pictures of someone in the process of breaking in.

“Alarm systems are just as reactive,” he said. “They are based on the fact ‘I already kicked down your door’ by the time it sets off.”

High security locks, in contrast, are for preventing unwanted entrances to begin with, he said. So start with that, he strongly suggested.

These days, Henke is seeing more interest in electronic, push button models for ease of access from those looking to purchase safes. However, if a business or resident needs a safe to store thousands of dollars’ worth of valuables, Henke noted that it does not make sense to find bargain basement sales on the internet.

“You can’t purchase security based on price,” he said.

Henke also warns buyers about inexpensive bio-metric safes available from big box retailers: what is supposedly high tech is actually easily opened via other options other than fingerprints.

Stephanie Prokop can be reached at [email protected].

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