Anchorage had a record number of homicides last year and is on pace to possibly surpass that number this year. Mayor Ethan Berkowitz took some heat for comments he made last week when he said residents who were not involved in drugs or out after midnight were safe. He apologized a day later, saying he wishes he could undo those comments. He said when crime happens to someone in the city, he feels the weight.
BERKOWITZ: And it’s important to make sure that people who are victims by crime or concerned about crime know that I have that sympathy, and that I have that understanding. And I need to make sure that I convey that at all times.
TOWNSEND: What are you hearing, Mayor, from residents about their level of concern over safety? People should be able to expect the city to be safe, no matter what time of day it is.
BERKOWITZ: You know, there’s different ways of answering that question. I’ve always looked at the ability to generate a safe community is dependent on what we’re doing to prevent crime, what we’re doing to police it, how are we prosecuting it, what sort of punishments are in place, and the city only has the ability to exert levels on the policing. We have very little prosecutorial power. Most of the crime, the serious crime in the state, is charged at the state or at the federal level so… We’re also contending with the fact that we have an opioid epidemic and we are way short of the prevention piece here in terms of the detox facilities as well as the outreach.
TOWNSEND: As you’re well aware, we have Nixle alerts that go out. There’s a lot of social media sites, Facebook, Next Door, there’s other sites… Do you find those helpful or do they fuel the perception that crime is rampant?
BERKOWITZ: Well, police have been very appreciative of the help they receive from the public. They’ve been able to generate leads and successfully apprehend and arrest people who have committed crimes through Nixle. There’s also the reality that when people are intensely aware of everything that’s going on in a community, those concerns tend to become exacerbated. There’s a lot of really great things that are happening in Anchorage right now. We’ve grown the police department. We’re gonna have some more detox facilities come online. The state hopefully will resolve its fiscal gap and we’ll be able to start to put more prosecutors back online and sort of restore the troopers to the levels that they had historically been. So, there are a lot of things that are good that are happening. We sometimes when we’re caught in the social media world, we just see a small piece of the bigger picture.
TOWSEND: There’s been a lot of debate about SB91. A lot of people seem to be blaming an uptick in petty theft and property crimes on SB 91 and a perceived inability by law enforcement to make arrests. What’s your take on that perspective?
BERKOWITZ: There’s a lot of contributing factors to what’s going on. Senate Bill 91 isn’t even what they intended it to be. Senate Bill 91 was intended to replace incarceration with rehabilitation. They restricted the discretion that police officers and prosecutors have, which I think is an unfortunate step. But they didn’t back-fill at the same time with putting the rehabilitation resources in place. So in a little bit, we’ve not even seen SB91 the way it was created. We’re seeing half of SB91 and that’s part of the problem. But this is an instance where the state would allow the municipality to do more things for ourselves, and not dictate to us at the local levels how things should be policed and prosecuted, then I think we’d have a better ability to take care of the situation here.