By GOV. MIKE DUNLEAVY
Since the beginning of civilization, the primary purpose of government has been to protect public safety. The Founders acknowledged this in the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence, when they wrote of the God-given rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. “To secure these rights,” they wrote, “governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
Tragically, far too many Americans are living under governments that are failing to secure life and liberty. In many cases, prosecutors, mayors and city councils have abdicated this responsibility entirely. The “defund” movement and reforms that put criminals ahead of victims have caused a predictable rise in violent crime. Murder and car theft are skyrocketing, with no end in sight.
We’ve taken the opposite approach in Alaska, with far different outcomes.
The latest Crime in Alaska Report, based on data submitted to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, showed that crime rates fell here for the third year in a row and are now at a 41-year low. As recently as 2017, Alaska’s crime rates were the highest in two decades. The steep decline hasn’t been an accident.
Violent crime dropped 9.7% in Alaska in 2021; property crime declined 17.3%. Crime fell in every category except arson, and that was attributable to one suspect linked to seven incidents.
Our report also reveals that Alaska’s rates of violent crime and rape remain unacceptably high and greater than national averages. We aren’t spiking the football, and we will continue working to drive down these crimes by placing more resources into our departments of public safety, law and corrections.
Alaska tried cutting its public-safety budget in the middle of the last decade. The objective of legislation known as Senate Bill 91 was similar to what we’ve heard from reform advocates in the lower 48 states: to reduce the prison population by essentially decriminalizing “petty” offenses and eliminating bail requirements. The number of state troopers was cut, posts were closed, and the ranks of village public-safety officers who work in remote Alaska communities fell by more than half.
More than property crimes like shoplifting and car theft soared as a result. The violent-crime rate reached a five-year high in 2018. In Anchorage, the state’s largest city, 2017 and 2019 ranked first and second all-time for homicides. As a state senator, I voted against S.B. 91, which was signed into law by my predecessor as governor in 2016. Seven months after taking office in 2019, I signed the repeal of that law.
While many police jurisdictions across the country are struggling to retain and recruit officers, Alaska has graduated two full classes from its two law enforcement academies this year. Our state troopers, village public-safety officers, local law-enforcement officers, prosecutors, probation officers and many others have contributed to the declining crime rate. They deserve our thanks and support. We won’t demonize or defund them. We will defend our people, and we will defeat those who victimize others.
There’s no greater responsibility of a government or an elected official, and here in Alaska we’re proving we take that job seriously.
Gov. Dunleavy wrote this for the Wall Street Journal, where it first appeared on Nov. 27, 2022.