Crime on the Decline

Lee Chee Chang stood above Emilio Ramirez and shot him in the parking lot of an east-side Muldoon bar, Anchorage police say.

Chang’s older brother, Ka Meng Chang, lay dead just yards away on the southbound lane of Muldoon Road, gunned down some time before. Two others, a man with bullet wounds in his arms and Ramirez’s critically injured girlfriend, bled on the premises of J.J.’s Lounge as witnesses scrambled to make sense of what had just happened in the early hours of Oct. 10.

This deadly shootout, an ongoing investigation by the Anchorage Police Department, is among the most recent of violent crimes to hit what has been labeled by Forbes as the fifth most dangerous city in the United States. Coupled with a significant number of rapes, aggravated assaults, and robberies, Anchorage boasts a per capita crime rate more than double that of the entire state, and double the national average as well.

Forbes’ 2010 list of most dangerous cities in the nation used information compiled in the FBI’s 2010 uniform crime report (UCR), which tallies crime data from the nation’s metropolitan areas, collected from 17,000 law enforcement agencies across the United States and organized to account for population differences and accurate city-to-city comparisons. Forbes drew from four different categories of violent crime to compile its list: murder, forcible rape, aggravated assault and robbery.

Anchorage ranks fifth in the nation for violent crime, according to the Forbes’ list. Anchorage averaged 813 violent crimes for every 100,000 inhabitants, according to the UCR. Compare this to the national average of 404 violent crimes for every 100,000 inhabitants,

Anchorage’s rape rates are the most significant contributors to the city’s high crime level. In 2010, 264 people were raped in Anchorage’s population of 290,334, according to the UCR. That translates to 0.09 percent of the city having been forcibly raped in the past year, compared to the national average of 0.02 percent.

“Rapes and sexual assaults are a persistent challenge for us,” said APD Deputy Chief Steve Smith.

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Lew Reed, the APD’s primary statistician and research collator, says that these high crime rates are heavily influenced by the state’s remoteness.

“Tracking crime in Alaska is a complicated story,” said Reed. “Despite Anchorage’s perceived metropolitan status, our state is a highly isolated rural area compared to the rest of the United States. We’re an island, basically, a large island, so we get a lot of unique situations that can’t be found anywhere else in the nation.”

On a national level, violent crime has decreased since 2006. Murder has dropped four percent, rape fell five percent, robbery fell ten percent, and aggravated assault dropped four percent, according to the UCR. This trend is being reflected across many major crime cities, including Detroit.

Anchorage’s recent crime rates have followed suit. In a long-term look, Anchorage’s rates have appeared to be steady, but the drop from 2009-2010 shows an optimistic reduction.

“There have been increases here and decreases there, but overall Anchorage crime has kept a rather stable range so far,” said Reed.

However, recent results show that APD efforts have decreased almost all categories of violent crime in Anchorage, other than aggravated assault, from 2009 to 2010. Murders decreased from 15 in 2009 to 13 the following year; forcible rapes declined from 282 to 264; and robberies dropped from 534 to 454. Aggravated assault was the only violent crime rate to rise, from 1,658 in 2009 to 1,701 in 2010.

APD attributes this overall drop in violent crime to a bolstered crackdown on street-level criminal activity.

“We’ve put great emphasis on street-level drug and gang activity, and it’s really made a big impact,” said Deputy Chief Smith. “Anchorage is seeing continued reductions in crime.”

Chief of Police Mark Mew fully agrees.

“These statistics tell us that we are paying attention to the right issues,” he said in a March 2011 press release, “though we continue to look for ways to improve.”