WASILLA, Alaska (KTUU) In a meeting packed wall-to-wall with residents, key law enforcement officials and Mat Su legislators addressed public perceptions of a growing crime problem in the valley.
As one lawmaker said, the stories of drugs and burglary are rampant. To come to better understanding of the issues and begin work towards solutions, state house representatives Mark Neuman and Colleen Sullivan Leonard from Wasilla hosted a public safety forum.
“I get calls from friends all the time that say, ‘Hey, I just went to the grocery store, and I’ve got people that are going up and down the rows, checking out every car trying to steal things,'” said Representative-elect Sullivan Leonard.
In story after story, residents described the day they became victimized by a crime. The public question-and-answer period yielded criticisms of a variety of issues, including the lack of funding for police protection in the Mat Su, perceived holes in the recently passed crime reform bill SB-91, as well as an influx of drug-related crimes.
“For so many years, people who lived here a long time like me were lulled into a false sense of security of feeling it's still the farming area, and I think this has woke people up to lock your doors,” said Mat Su resident Vicky Wallner, who founded the Facebook group Stop Valley Thieves.
A panel of State Troopers, Wasilla Police, Palmer Police, state officials and lawmakers listened to the concerns, while offering their own perspective on the problems
“The drug epidemic is such like we’ve never seen before,” said Palmer District Attorney Roman Kalytiak. “Most of the property offenses are people who need money to feed their drug habit.”
Wasilla police said, violent crime may not necessarily be a growing issue, but rather it’s the burglaries, the car-hopping, and the drug use that’s affecting everyday lives.
“Somebody walks by, they look in and see the purse and knock the window out and they’re gone,” said Wasilla Police Chief Gene Belden.
State Trooper representatives said, budget cuts are keeping numbers below ideal. One official said, less than 10 troopers operate in the valley at any given time.
“You, us, and everyone else out there, we need to work on this collectively,” said Alaska Department of Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan.