Police: Homicides in Anchorage fell nearly in half in 2020

A white man in an officers uniform speaks at a podium
Police Chief Justin Doll, center, speaking about the Anchorage Police Department’s new crime supression strategy at APD headquarters next to Capt. Ken McCoy, left, and Lt. Kevin Vandegriff, right in 2017. (Zachariah Hughes/Alaska Public Media)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The number of homicides in Alaska’s largest city fell by nearly half in 2020 compared with the previous year, authorities said.

The Anchorage Police Department said 18 people were killed in the city and three men were fatally shot by police last year, the Anchorage Daily News reported Sunday.

Significantly less violence was reported in general, including shootings, Police Chief Justin Doll said.

Data about calls related to gunfire wasn’t immediately available.

Along with the decrease in homicides, there were lower instances of other types of crime, including thefts, burglaries, vandalism and sexual assaults.

Doll said it was unclear whether the drop in crime could be tied to the unique circumstances of the year, when the coronavirus pandemic closed businesses, strained hospitals and prompted high rates of unemployment.

“I think the Police Department has put a lot of effort into being proactive and addressing especially violent crime in our community,” Doll said. “But I think that there’s also a little bit of an Alaska factor. We’re always a little different than the rest of the country.”

During the first six months of 2020, preliminary data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report showed that the national number of murder and non-negligent manslaughter cases increased by nearly 15% compared with the first six months of 2019.

Sgt. Bianca Cross of the Anchorage police homicide unit said there are various reasons violence may have decreased during the last year.

“Some of the problems that we seem to have involve socializing and drinking environments, and that has been significantly cut down by COVID,” Cross said.

Most Anchorage homicide victims died close to home, and many knew their killers. They ranged in age from 5 to 83. A majority of the crimes occurred in the second half of the year, Cross said.

Of the 18 homicides in the city in 2020, four cases were still open at the end of the year. A total of 13 people were arrested in 11 separate instances, with two cases closed without charges.

Two suspicious deaths were still being investigated, police said.

Though homicides were down, the city had the same number of deadly police shootings in 2020 as the year before. Those three deaths came amid a national reckoning over police brutality, with thousands of people protesting in Anchorage.

Police sought more community feedback, leading the department to push for body cameras for officers and more accessible records. City leaders are still considering the proposal.