Sentenced

Gov. Mike Dunleavy is lauding law enforcement and his administration for an 18.5% drop in Alaska’s crime rate, according to a state crime report released Monday.

“Public safety in Alaska has been the top priority for my administration since the first day I took office,” Dunleavy said.

The annual Crime in Alaska Report, which tracks and measures reported crimes, was published by the state Department of Public Safety. It spans 12 months of crime reporting statistics from 32 police agencies in Alaska.

James Cockrell, public safety commissioner, described findings in the 2020 crime report as underscoring “real progress” by law enforcement efforts to make Alaska safer for all citizens.

Austin McDaniel, acting communications director of the Public Safety Department, said that several factors likely contributed to the overall crime decrease. “There isn’t a single answer for why crime decreased in 2020,” he said.

“In 2020 we saw the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, and in addition we are also seeing the effect from the repeal of SB91 by Gov. Dunleavy and the Legislature,” McDaniel said. “It’s important to note that crime has been decreasing since 2018 in Alaska.”

SB91, which reduced the number of criminals who returned to prison, had been blamed for a crime surge in the state. Dunleavy’s crime bill effectively replaced SB91 and was signed into law seven months after the Republican governor took office. It strengthened criminal sentencing, provided more discretion to judges and the parole board, and toughened the bail system.

Extraordinary year in Alaska

The 2020 annual crime report covers an extraordinary year in Alaska. Across the nation, stay-at-home restrictions for controlling Covid-19 yielded large decreases in almost all types of crime. Alaska followed that trend.

According to the 2020 report:

• Alaska’s total number of reported offenses were at their lowest level in 45 years.

• The number of property crimes decreased by 22.9%, the lowest total for reported property offenses since 1974.

• The total number of violent crimes dropped, too. The number decreased by 3.8% from 2019, with the exception of rape.

The number of reported rapes in Alaska increased by 3.1% in 2020. Rape was the only Part I crime category with an increase in offenses reported over the previous year, according to the report.

‘Scourge of sexual assault’

Cockrell emphasized the need to “eliminate the scourge of sexual assault and domestic violence in our state.”

Dunleavy promised Monday to “remove sexual predators and violent offenders from the streets in Alaska by immediately collecting 100% of the DNA owed in all authorized cases.”

The governor’s office pointed to Dunleavy’s initiatives to increase DNA samples taken from offenders and to speed up the processing time for sexual assault kits. The governor’s plan includes adding software and a tracking database to allow survivors and agencies involved to check on the status and location of sexual assault evidence kits.

“My directive remains to reduce the sexual assault kit testing and processing times to 90 days and increasing funds to add more staff and resources to achieve that goal,” Dunleavy said.

The administration will request that the Legislature appropriate an additional $1.1 million in federal relief dollars to fund his initiative, Dunleavy’s office said.

The governor also plans to introduce legislation next session to “directly address sexual assaults and violent offenses,” the governor’s office said.

“While the decline in crime rate numbers is a testament to the great work law enforcement and partners across the state are doing, we will not stop until sexual assaults and domestic violence are no longer a problem in our communities,” Dunleavy said.

Contact Linda F. Hersey at 907-459-7575 or lhersey@newsminer.com. Follow her at twitter.com/FDNMpolitics.

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