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$140,000: Plan to change all police car locks after break-in goes before Assembly

(KTUU)
Published: May. 4, 2016 at 5:18 PM AKDT
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UPDATE:

The Anchorage Assembly will consider an emergency spending request at its next meeting to have all 400 police cars rekeyed following a break-in at a city-owned vehicle maintenance shop.

According to a memo from Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, the city wants the Assembly’s approval to spend $139,756 to have locks on the entire fleet of Anchorage Police Department (APD) cars switched out. A job contract has already been awarded to Able Locksmiths but the city purchasing officer needs the Assembly’s nod before the work can proceed.

“Delay could result in severe safety issues to both APD and the public. This project requires expedited handling,” wrote Ronald Hadden, purchasing officer, in an April 21 memo to Berkowitz.

The city first disclosed the spending late last month in a response to a KTUU public records request.

In his request to the Assembly, Berkowitz said APD found no evidence that any vehicles were exposed to “additional risk as a result of the break-in.” But despite that, the police decided it should “swiftly rekey its fleet.”

The burglary took place on April 7 before 3 a.m. at a city fleet services shop on Fairbanks Street, according to APD.

The Assembly is scheduled to take up the request at its next regular meeting on Tuesday evening.

ORIGINAL STORY:

The city of Anchorage plans to spend $131,000 to change the locks on police vehicles following a break-in at a city-owned building earlier this year.

“The municipality's fleet shop was burglarized. Initially, we had some real concerns with what took place, because like many victims you don’t right away know what property was taken,” Anchorage Police Chief Chris Tolley said today.

Police initially provided information on the cost to re-key public vehicles in response to a KTUU public records request.

The April break-in to a city shop raised fears that thieves might have keys that accessed police vehicles. Tolley said an investigation concluded that was not the case – two sets of keys that start parks and recreation vehicles were taken. The stolen keys have since been recovered.

The precautionary effort to change locks on city cars, including police vehicles, follows a spike in property crime and auto theft across the city. More than 550 vehicles were reported stolen to Anchorage police this year as of late April, about twice as many as the same period last year, according to APD.

The break-ins and thefts have left hundreds of Anchorage residents feeling raw, rattled and angry.

“I bought a new car a couple of years ago but I traded it in because of what has been happening around here,” said school teacher Stephanie H., who lives in East Anchorage. “I wanted a less lucrative car, something that would be less desirable to thieves.”

No such luck. Stephanie awoke last Tuesday to find her 2000 Honda CRV had been stolen from her driveway. The car was discovered days later in a dirt parking lot, spray-painted black with a busted ignition.

Inside were stolen goods, apparently abandoned by the thieves. Items left-behind included a stolen laptop, spray cans and several keys that police showed her in a plastic evidence baggie.

“One of the police officers asked me if I worked for the government,” said Stephanie, who doesn’t want her last name used for fear the same criminals who stole her car, or others, will come after her again. “I said no. And he said, ‘Well we recovered a set of keys from there that belongs to a government building.’”

There is no indication the keys are related to the break-in at the city auto fleet building in April. Police have not made an arrest in that case.

MOST STOLEN CARS FOUND BUT CRIME HAMMERS CITY IMAGE

The Anchorage Economic Development Corp. in January reported that crime is eroding the city’s overall attractiveness.

In metrics compiled by the group, Anchorage’s quality of life dropped several points from the prior year, partly due to the growing rate of violent crime, according

The number of violent crimes reported in Anchorage by the FBI jumped by seven percent in 2014 over 2013. That caused the three-year average to increase by 3.4 percent.

AEDC president Bill Popp told KTUU that he’s not happy with current crime trends.

“We’ve got room for improvement,” Popp said. “It’s a community issue that the community needs to address. We’re not going to solve it overnight.”

About 85 percent of the stolen vehicles this year have been recovered police said.

Asked specifically about the spike in vehicle thefts of late, Anchorage District Attorney Clint Campion recently said his staff is working to prosecute 70 such cases.

Campion also said police and prosecutors are investigating whether the car thefts are the work of a larger crime syndicate in Anchorage. He has one prosecutor dedicated to the task.

“If we have reason to think that there are people working together, and if we can connect the dots and infiltrate and deter those individuals that are part of a larger group, the hope is that we’ll see the spike decrease,” Campion said.

While the theft of Stephanie’s Honda left her feeling emotionally violated, at least one other recent car theft case resulted in physical injury to the victim.

On March 26, A.J. Mafua was dragged under his father’s Hummer as a thief tried to drive it away. Court documents say Arthur Reekie, 38, entered a shop on the 1200 block of East 68th Ave and told a man inside that he wanted to buy the man’s Hummer, which was running outside with the man’s son standing nearby.

The owner said the vehicle wasn’t for sale. Reekie walked outside, got into the Hummer and as Mafua, the son, tried to prevent the car from being stolen. Mafua told police he tried to drag Reekie out of the Hummer but Reekie slammed the door on his hand. Reekie then put the Hummer in reverse and backed out of the parking space. Mafua got his foot caught between the running board and the vehicle as the Hummer moved away. Reekie dragged Mafua with the Hummer as he backed it out of the parking space. Mafua freed himself but told police the incident left him with a sore back and hand.

Police later interviewed a woman identified as Reekie’s aunt. She told police that Reekie walked into her house “shaking like a leaf” and saying things like “I can do anything” and “everyone in the world knows me.” She told police Reekie had been acting “out of his head” for the past week or so.

She said others told her Reekie had been smoking crack, using marijuana, and possibly heroin. He’s charged with robbery, car theft, assault, and driving without a valid license.

HEROIN, OPIOID ABUSE A FACTOR?

In another recent case, Joseph Daniel Nickalaskey is accused of stealing a woman’s Chevy Tahoe from her home on West 24th Avenue in the early hours of April 10. After police got the report, they conducted a felony stop on a vehicle with a matching license plate. Inside the car, they found Nickalaskey, asleep with a concealed handgun tucked into his waistband. Once awake, Nickalaskey wouldn’t give officers his name and then later provided a false name, according to charging documents.

When police searched the Tahoe, they discovered drug paraphernalia including used syringes and burnt foil.

Police have said that Alaska’s growing heroin and opioid abuse problems are contributing to the rise in burglaries and other crimes. Anchorage police recently released the names of people charged in 18 car theft cases. Nearly all of them involve drugs like heroin or meth.

The Drug Enforcement Agency confiscated 61 pounds of heroin in Alaska in 2014, compared to 14 pounds the year before, according to DEA figures.

The number of people dying of heroin overdoses is also growing. The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services has reported that heroin-related deaths tripled in Alaska from 208 to 2013.

Police warn that a variety of factors are at play in any given property crime case, making it difficult to blame any single common denominator. Regardless of what’s driving Anchorage’s car theft and property crime problem, Stephanie is among those who are getting fed up.

“I’m not blaming it entirely on the police. I know they are overburdened with this. But that doesn’t change the fact that not enough is being done to actually catch these people and to figure out if it’s a car theft ring,” she said.

For now, she’s without a car and relying on her boyfriend to drive her around. The thief or thieves who took her car destroyed the ignition.

She would like to replace the 16-year-old Honda CRV with a similar model, she said.

But first, she said, she bought a car alarm.

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