Every year Alaska turns in a list of crime statistics to the FBI, and every year the FBI releases its Uniform Crime Report. The UCR tracks eight serious crimes across the nation, including murder, rape and arson.
But that's the problem with the UCR: It's uniform. Every state turns in their data using the same categories, and Alaska has some unique crime issues. Alaska law enforcement officials want better data on domestic violence and alcohol smuggling, and they want to be able to compare crime data between different cities and regions in the state.
A new reporting system being discussed by law enforcement officials would collect more crime statistics using definitions specific to Alaska, and would allow law makers and law enforcement to better understand Alaska crime.
"We need good reliable statistics in order to plan for the future," said Col. Audie Holloway, director of the Alaska State Troopers. He calls the new reporting system "Alaska Crime Statistics" and wants to get it operational by the first day of 2011.
A state Senate bill would give the plan some teeth by giving the Department of Public Safety the power to withhold grant money if a department doesn't report the crimes the system would measure.
Holloway said the definitions used by the UCR and Alaska are different, which makes it difficult to keep track of what's happening in Alaska. For example, the UCR counts multiple crimes only once, by the most serious crime. So if a woman was robbed, raped and murdered, the UCR would count that as one murder.
Also, the narrow definition the UCR uses for rape only counts male on female rape. Holloway noted that when a man is raped, the UCR definition does not record it.
The Department of Public Safety will continue to collect statistics on the eight UCR crimes for the FBI, but now it will also ask troopers and local police departments for the stats on a wider range of crimes, including domestic violence, bootlegging and alcohol smuggling, and drunk driving.
Holloway has been working with local police departments to sketch out the specifics of how the Alaska Crime Statistics program would work.
Chief Gus Sandahl of the Kenai Police Department has participated in those discussions, and he likes the idea of the state keeping better crime stats. He said it will help law enforcement and lawmakers understand crime trends.
Sandahl used domestic violence as an example. Say a lawmaker wants to appropriate money for domestic violence prevention or woman's shelters, Sandahl said. If there was a way to tell that a certain region didn't need as much help in that area (he said Kenai's domestic violence arrest rate fell by 20 percent last year, for example) then money could instead be spent where it was most sorely needed.
Holloway said he hopes to present the plan to the DPS commissioner in the next few months, although it's too early to predict a price tag. He also envisions making the statistics publicly searchable.
"If we don't do something like this, we're really falling behind and not providing the public with the information they can use," Holloway said.
Contact Joshua Saul at jsaul(at)alaskadispatch.com.