Talk to your neighbors when you see something happening on your street that looks suspicious.
Report all crimes to the police, even if you don’t think any justice will come out of it.
That’s the message community members gathered on Oct. 1 at the Chugiak Senior Center got from a host of government officials as Anchorage Assembly members introduced a new program aimed to improve the sharing of crime related information between the police department and community councils.
“Our ability to come together as a community will be what drives crime out of our neighborhoods,” Bill Starr said. As an assembly member representing Eagle River, Starr said he continues to lobby the Anchorage Police Department for additional presence in the land between two rivers. But he also knows the community needs to do its part. “Folks, the police want to know what you see happening on your street. So report it. Even if you think nothing is being done, it is building reports and statistics so we can show the need for policing.”
Starr and his colleague, Amy Demboski who represents the Chugiak area on the Assembly, co-hosted the event that featured speakers from the state level of government to representatives from community patrols and local vendors offering safety and security training and products.
Starr introduced what he called a community policing hybrid program in which monthly crime summary reports will be generated by the APD for each specific community council area represented in the Municipality. Starr and Assemblyman Dick Traini are co-sponsoring the proposal to the Assembly for its approval. “This will create a strong two-way link of communication so that community councils can monitor crime activity in their own neighborhoods and get the information to the people living in their represented area,” Starr said.
In an email to The ECHO News, Starr further outlined the proposal. He and Traini suggest that an APD officer familiar with each community council area be assigned to review the monthly report and present such to the community council. In essence, and in the practicality of community officials having a “go-to” person within the APD, each assigned officer will become a liaison to the respective community council.
“The goal is effective exchange of timely crime reports that are specific to the local area (given) to the individual neighborhood and a vested response to this data by local area police officers,” Starr said. “It’s our intention that this grass roots approach and real-time crime observations will lead to proactive solutions and increased awareness that results in preventive solutions specific to neighborhoods.” Starr further explained that community council members would then take that information to folks in their respective communities to give them up-to-date information on crime. He and Demboski regularly hear complaints from their constituents that they do not believe police reports indicating that crime is not on the rise. They say they often are told about criminal activity that does not make the police department’s blotter. At least twice during the question and answer session, Demboski urged residents to report any criminal or suspicious activity. “If the police don’t know about it, they cannot do anything about it either,” she said. “It may take time, but the more we report these things, the better chance the police have of catching criminals.”
APD Lt. Jack Carson, who lives in the Chugiak area, echoed that sentiment as he addressed those gathered in the center’s dining hall. He also urged a responsible usage of social media – including the notion that posting something on a social media site is the same as telling the police. “We know that with the prevalence of social media and sites where suspicious activity is being documented online that people think crime is going through the roof,” Carson said. “The good news is that truly, while we do have a few pockets where activity is high, overall, our crime rates are not climbing.”
Carson announced that another 56 new police officers will be added to the force by the end of the year. He outlined the process of recruiting, hiring, training at the police academy and on-the-job training and the respective timelines for such asking the public to be patient as the department rebuilds after a series of deep cuts several years ago under a different mayor. Traini, who along with Elvi Gray-Jackson, the Assembly chair, also attended the meeting in Chugiak that to some may seem far from their Midtown districts, said he is committed to rebuilding the police department. “Public safety is my number one concern,” Traini said. “I also want to stress that even though this is Chugiak, we are all part of the Municipality and we are one city. We are all united against crime.”
Various attendees shared their crime story, including state Rep. Dan Saddler, who as such sat at the head table, but related a story as chilling as those coming from the audience. “Our home was broken in to,” Saddler said. “We added security measures to our home. I am not saying I did or did not purchase a shotgun, but I will say we upped our home defense.” Saddler’s remarks drew some applause and some chuckles in the room. It also unleashed the proverbial “elephant in the room” as many Alaskans own personal firearms and keep them loaded in their homes. Some of the vendors in the back of the room where there for that purpose: To help residents through the process of purchasing an appropriate firearm and being trained on the proper usage of such.
Demboski stressed that knowledge of home defense laws is an important tool to have in one’s residential arsenal. Carson reminded attendees that while yes, they have the right to own firearms, and doing so also comes with a responsibility to be trained by professionals in the care, usage and storage of personal usage firearms. “It can be very dangerous to own a firearm if you are not trained. You can hurt yourself or someone else if you do not have the correct training and do not practice safety standards,” Carson said. “We get a lot of calls from people who have hurt themselves because they did not know what they were doing with a firearm.”
In the end, Demboski felt the event was a success. “My goal was to bring people and information together,” she said. “This topic is going to be a continuing dialogue. But at least it is started.” Rachele Yeomans, a mother of three from Eagle River, said that is why she attended. She wanted reliable information; she wanted to know what she and her husband can legally do to defend themselves, their children, their home and others, if need be. “People in Alaska look to be equipped,” she said. “We do not have a victim mentality. We want to be equipped with the information and empowered to take care of ourselves.”