State tracks a bump in Alaska homicides over the last five years

a trooper car
An Alaska State Trooper K-9 Unit SUV in Anchorage. (Joey Mendolia/Alaska Public Media)

Yearly homicides more than doubled from 2011 to 2019 in Alaska.

That’s according to the state’s report on the most recent data, which shows that the state’s annual homicide rate increased steadily and significantly over the last decade.

Alaska’s homicide rate is higher than the national average, according to the report. And the national average is high already — more than seven times higher than other high-income countries combined in 2015.

The state makes these reports so epidemiologists and other state agencies can see what is changing with homicide rates in Alaska over time.

“What we saw when we looked at the timeline is that we see about midpoint, this increase,” said Deborah Hull-Jilly, a state epidemiologist that has monitored injury data for more than two decades.  “So what’s the difference? What’s happening there that is impacting homicides, and having more homicide victims in the last five years?”

Five hundred and thirty-two Alaskans were killed from 2011-2020 — most with guns. Homicides by firearm increased substantially in most regions in Alaska over the course of the study.

Alaska Native people were killed at four times the rate of white Alaskans. Men were the most frequent victims, accounting for two-thirds of the homicides in the state. Of female victims, nearly 40% were killed by intimate partners, like current or former spouses.

Nearly half of the state’s homicides took place in Anchorage, which is home to almost 40% of the state’s population.

But Hull-Jilly says there was another metric that mirrored the bump in the rise in homicide rates in the last five years. More than half of homicide victims tested positive for the use of alcohol or drugs — especially marijuana and methamphetamines.

“We have to keep a closer eye and look at … suspect-victim relationships, particularly when it comes to substance use,” she said, noting that if victims are using methamphetamines, they are likely to be around other users, who can become more aggressive under the influence of the drug

“This homicide report is just the beginning of some very good data, working with our law enforcement partners, to see if we can’t identify more information that will aid in the prevention of these cases,” she said.

Homicides account for nearly 20% of the state’s violent deaths — a number that is dwarfed by suicides, which account for about 70% of the violent deaths. The remainder, Hull-Jilly said, are from people killed by police and deaths with “undetermined intent.” The homicides counted in the study are only for closed cases.

The first year of the pandemic was an exception to the other years of the study. While homicides spiked in the rest of the nation, they decreased by more than a third in Alaska.

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