Q&A: Why are there so many killings this year in Anchorage?

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) With 25 killings, this year is shaping up to be one of the deadliest on record for Alaska's largest city.

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and Police Chief Chris Tolley discuss 2016 homicides.

Police have made arrests in fewer than half of the murders, with three double homicides unsolved. Today, Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and Police Chief Chris Tolley visited the Channel 2 studio to answer questions about the crimes. See the conversation in the video above.

[With string of unsolved murders, edginess on the rise in Anchorage]

In a short follow-up interview, KTUU asked additional questions about the FBI's involvement in the investigations, the purpose of a community alert -- or Nixle -- that urged people to be vigilant when traveling at night in isolated areas and other topics. Find excerpts from that conversation below:

On the subject of possible gang involvement ...
TOLLEY: “We are very much aware that gangs play a role in the crime in our nation. There are some cities, fortunately Anchorage is not one of them where gang holds are very, very strong. Where they own city blocks and neighborhoods. We have not seen that same type of activities here in Anchorage.
“That doesn’t mean that some individuals don’t have family members or friends, because they were in prison together down in the lower 48 and they became affiliated, or ties with them, but we don’t see those real strong ties or hold, back here in Anchorage."

KTUU: Is the FBI investigating other homicides other than the Valley of the Moon?
TOLLEY: The FBI has been a great partner to us for many, many, many years. Safe Streets. But not just them. All the federal agencies. The DEA, the ATF, the IRS, the troopers and other police departments. It’s not uncommon for law enforcement to work with one another. Because crime has no boundaries. It’s not unique to just our own street, neighborhood, it goes beyond the municipality. Beyond the state of Alaska and beyond our nation …”

KTUU: Can you say whether they are working with APD on any of the other unsolved homicide cases beyond the Valley of the Moon one?
TOLLEY: I’m not going to speculate on any of the current investigations. It just wouldn’t be right to do so. But we use force multipliers any time we have the opportunity to.”

KTUU: Do you feel like you’re adequately communicating with the public?
BERKOWITZ: “We can always do a better job communicating. That’s one of the …you guys are in the communication business. You know that, you can always do a better job. That’s the standard that we hold ourselves up to. I would ask people to recognize that this is something we are working hard on. There are operational decisions that I don’t know about that the police department makes because we can’t do anything that would compromise an ongoing investigation.”

KTUU: There is concern that the killings are connected and talk of a serial killer … could you dispel that?
TOLLEY: "Rumors are so terrible. The police department will only deal with verifiable facts. It’s not fair to the victim. It’s not fair to their families, to their neighbors. … How sad. And that’s why it’s very important to use good sources such as Nixles and other information that’s being put out by the police department for good verifiable information."

KTUU: So one way or another today, you can’t say one way or the other if there is a serial killer in Anchorage?
TOLLEY: “Again, it’s so easy to look back and see what has happened historically … Once we know all the facts and all the information. We can’t speculate on something that we can’t verify.”

KTUU: Surely there would be connective threads between killings … that’s one thing that’s unclear and the Nixle did feel like it fanned the flames of a little bit. What we haven’t heard from police is that we don’t see a connection between these killings, and that is something that police will sometimes say …
TOLLEY: "Again, there’s … information as it comes out, as you look at it. It’s not always, turns out to be that way. It takes time to get information and verify it and make sure that it’s credible. You also have all the prosecution associated with it and all the partners you’re working with through that. The D.A.’s office or other prosecutors and so on. All of this information, it takes time to figure out and get lab results."

KTUU: With the Point Woronzof double homicide, for example, that happened in January, and we’ve been asking do the police know if these people knew each other, what was the manner of death? …
TOLLEY: There are cold cases out there from years ago and sometimes homicides, all crimes, are solved immediately. Sometimes in the same day. Some times in the same week. Sometime it takes months. Unfortunately sometime it takes years if not decades to solve."

KTUU The thing that’s been swirling around in people’s minds is you have that cryptic Nixle that went out, ‘don’t be along on public trails…”
TOLLEY: “So please write this down, it wasn’t cryptic. It’s no different – we always want to keep the public informed and let them know what’s going on and how to best make their neighborhood safe. It’s no different than an announcement you would hear at the Anchorage airport about un-watched luggage. These things people need to be reminded of. It’s a good way to be safe."
BERKOWITZ: “We do a bear aware …”

KTUU: You read this Nixle … ‘Don’t go out at night to isolated places’ and meanwhile you have a number of unsolved homicides of people in isolated places and it just raises questions in people’s minds …
TOLLEY: “And that’s where it’s really dangerous to deal with rumors or speculation. We should only deal with hard facts and verifiable information.”



 
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