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Anchorage crime rates rise slightly

Posted: Sunday, March 02, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- For the second straight year, the number of serious reported crimes rose in Anchorage.

After falling through the 1990s, the number of reported crimes remains far below the levels of a decade ago. But in select areas, such as rape, domestic violence and sexual assault, crime has inched up.

The number of reported rapes rose from 81 in 2001 to 96 last year. The number of sexual assaults, including rapes, rose from 286 in 2001 to 341 last year. Police reports involving domestic violence also increased, from 3,925 in 2001 to 4,100 last year.

Mayor George Wuerch, running for re-election this spring, suggested the rise in the number of rape and domestic violence crimes is the result of more public outreach and education, which has given people the knowledge and confidence to report crimes.

''Are they up because we have more assaults or because we are making it safer to come forward and say, 'I need help'? I leave that to you to decide,'' Wuerch said. ''(Domestic violence and rape) is the most underreported crime in the history of the country, and we're on our way to reporting it.''

Wuerch's two main opponents in the race for mayor, former Mayor Rick Mystrom and former Assembly Chairman Mark Begich, expressed concern over the rise in crime.

When Mystrom was mayor from 1994 to 2000, the city's crime rate fell more than 40 percent. That drop shadowed a national trend, though Anchorage's crime rate fell even further.

Mystrom credits the drop in part to a community policing program he launched as mayor. He said that if elected he would re-emphasize policing with a neighborhood focus. Such tactics would particularly help in downtown, home of many of the city's bars, he said.

''Without a constant focus on crime, it starts moving up again,'' he said.

Begich focused on the link between alcohol and crimes like domestic violence and rape. He said that if elected, he would gather people from the alcohol business, the police department and nonprofit groups such as Standing Together Against Rape, or STAR, to focus on the problem.

''I'd look again at the statistics and say, 'Hey, where is this occurring? When? Who? This is not acceptable,' '' Begich said.

The number of rapes per capita in Anchorage was 2 1/2 times the national average in 2001, said Anna Fairclough, the head of STAR in Anchorage. She is skeptical that the increase in domestic violence and rape is the result of more reporting.

''I'd like to draw the conclusion that in Anchorage women feel like they can report,'' she said. ''I don't think that's true. I think the truth is that people are acting on violence they see on television and pornography on the Internet.''

Eleven people have filed to run for Anchorage mayor. Aside from Begich, Mystrom and Wuerch, other candidates include Jennifer Citti, Daniel DeNardo, David Dunsmore, Thomas Higgins, Tom Layne, Bruce Lemke, Malcolm Ray and Richard ''Ziggy'' Ziegler.



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