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Anchorage decline in homicides continues in 2001

Posted: Wednesday, January 02, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Anchorage murders declined in 2001 for the sixth straight year and might have hit the lowest point in at least 27 years, tentative year-end figures show.

Police investigated 11 slayings last year, down from 14 in 2000 and a sharp drop from the record set in 1995, when 31 people were murdered.

When a final tally goes to the FBI in March, Anchorage might report a record low. One 2001 case now on the books could be classified as a justified shooting and another could be accidental, police said. Anchorage's record low is 10 slayings, in 1990, according to police statistics kept since 1974.

Police Chief Walt Monegan says credit for the improvement is due to a number of factors.

''I put it right back on the community,'' he said. ''There's more than the Police Department working to try to keep the homicide rates down.''

The chief said schools are doing a better job educating kids, community patrols and other groups are helping prevent crime, the criminal justice system is putting more criminals behind bars, and prisons are working to better rehabilitate convicts.

Mayor George Wuerch said police deserve at least part of the recognition. The department's community policing efforts provide a strong presence in many neighborhoods, he said.

''I would hope that acts as a deterrent,'' Wuerch said.

Sgt. Ross Plummer, supervisor of the homicide detective unit, said Alaska's economy so far has remained strong despite the recession in the Lower 48. That means more people are working and less inclined toward crime, he said.

Only one 2001 slaying was linked to robbery, and police believe Tawni Williams, 51, knew the perpetrators. Williams disappeared in May on the same day she received a $22,500 distribution from Cook Inlet Region Incorporated. The money was drained from her bank account in the weeks following her disappearance. Her body was found in Wasilla in August.

Plummer said the fact that no one was killed during a business or street robbery shows the success of crime prevention by stores, which have more security guards and cameras, and community patrols and neighborhood watches, which provide more eyes watching for suspicious activities.

''It's a lot of little things that are starting to add up,'' Plummer said.

Police reports indicate all 2001 Anchorage murder victims likely knew their assailants. Nationally, 43 percent of victims are randomly slain by strangers, according to the FBI.

The absence of random killings here can be attributed at least partially to the decrease in gangs and drug dealing that usually come with them, said Detective Scott Lofthouse of the robbery-assault unit.

''There are more communities within our city that are actually taking active roles in mentoring their children,'' Monegan said, ''so that we're not having as much gang activity.''

Domestic violence led to 13 murders in 1995. Police have not definitively linked any of the 2001 slayings to family members.

Don Krohn, a homicide detective, said the strong economy means more people are working and have less anger to take out on their families. And stronger domestic violence laws provide for intervention before situations escalate to murder.

''The number of arrests have skyrocketed since the laws have been changed,'' Krohn said.

Detective Joe Hoffbeck of the homicide unit said paramedics and hospital emergency room staffers are helping to reduce the number of people who die from assaults. With better medical technology and training, they can save people these days who might have died from their injuries in the past, he said.

With fewer murders, the Police Department's seven homicide detectives can spend more time on each case. Police solved nine of last year's 11 murders and have suspects in the other two.



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