A shooting in East Anchorage Thursday morning left a 20-year old resident dead. It is the fourth homicide since Sunday, and the city’s police department held a press conference addressing a rise in gun violence this month, announcing they will create a mutli-agency task force to address the issue.
Police Chief Mark Mew had his staff analyze how many violent shootings have happened this year, compared to past Januaries. So far, they have doubled.
“For the month of January we had 31 of those occurrences,” Mew said, compared to 12 last year, and 14 in the same period of 2013.
“Of the 31, four were homicides,” he continued, “and approximately a half dozen of them were other assaults.”
In total, the department has 10 cases under investigation, with suspects in several, and leads in all of them.
So far, drugs are the common element. Mew says marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamines, and pills have played a role in all but one of the cases.
“Something’s going on in the drug world right now,” Mew said.
Though it’s too early know for certain, Mew says some of the incidents appear to be related, involving gang activity and possibly retaliation. The department is putting together an in-house task force made up of potentially 10-15 officers pulled from different units to work on the new detail. APD has reached out to federal agencies to potentially coordinate on a task force, something that worked in a 2007 effort to respond rapidly to spikes in violent crime.
“We’re going to be going out, contacting all those people, serving warrants like crazy, taking one thing from one step to the next, shaking down everything that moves on the street,” said Mew, “and putting a lot of pressure on the criminal element that moves around at night.”
But some wonder if it’s the right approach. Paul Honeman is an assembly member representing East Anchorage, where the majority of this month’s shootings happened, and believes without more resources from the city to adequately staff the police department there will not be any long-term resolution.
“Community policing is a philosophy that needs time in order to address problems. And we haven’t seen that in a number of years,” said Honeman, who worked for two decades with APD. “We haven’t kept up with attrition, in fact some years we’ve slipped.”
Honeman has been approached by residents concerned over all the reports of violent crime. While most of the recent deaths and injuries may have had some connection to the illegal drug trade, the problem is felt far more broadly across the community.
“Statistics and numbers mean something, certainly, but it’s the perception of a safe community that’s most important,” Honeman explained. “I think if people in our community don’t feel safe then they’re not safe. In their mind they feel concerned for [themselves], their children, their families.”
The biggest obstacle for detectives is getting good information to pursue leads. Mew says the resistance to cooperation from residents and witnesses has been frustrating, and asks for anyone who may know something to contact police by calling 907-561-7867 (STOP) or online at www.anchoragecrimestoppers.com.