As crime spikes in Juneau, neighbors, police point to opioid epidemic
In the last two years, burglaries in the capital city are up 60 percent, according to the Juneau Police Department.
JPD says it’s a symptom of the state’s opioid epidemic — which Gov. Bill Walker has declared a disaster.
For the first time, neighborhood watch signs are cropping up around town. Police say people are stealing to fuel drug addictions, and if its petty theft, there’s not much the department can do about it. That’s why JPD and frustrated neighbors have banded together to focus on prevention.
Former educator, Stan Lujan, started the first-ever neighborhood watch in West Juneau. When he and his wife Amy first moved to the area 10 years ago; he says they didn’t really think much about crime.
“We used to leave our doors open all the time, unlocked, not a big deal, back door — didn’t worry about keys and those sorts of things,” Lujan said in an interview Tuesday.
But that all changed last fall after a neighbor was burglarized. Lujan’s view shifted — not only to what’s outside, but who’s trying to come in.
Lujan has installed cameras and alarms in his own home and is encouraging his neighbors to do the same. He sends emails to nearly 90 of his neighbors about suspicious behavior, meets monthly with a group of them and has a personal relationship with police.
“We thought, well, we need to have sort of a monthly access to the police department so they can give us ideas on what is the crimes statistics in our area on a monthly basis and what can we do to kind of keep ourselves protected,” Lujan explained.
According to JPD, burglaries have nearly doubled in the first quarter of this year. The department points to Alaska’s opioid epidemic and the state’s lack of treatment.
“People are not stealing outboard motors or Ipads, or backpacks, from vehicles to buy diapers. They’re stealing things to buy drugs,” said Erann Kalwara, Public Safety Manager for JPD.
Now, police are looking to partner with people like Lujan through neighborhood watch programs. As a patrol officer, Sgt. Krag Campbell says the new approach has made a difference.
“So far, I actually really like it. It’s nice to have some contact with the community and I know community members like to have that contact with the police where they know they have someone they can directly contact with questions or concerns,” Campbell said Tuesday.
Lujan is noticing the difference, too.
“We’re all connected together, gives people a sense of unity that we’re really a unit working to protect our neighborhood,” Lujan said of the neighborhood watch program.
Over the years, crime may have changed his habits, but Lujan hopes it has brought his neighborhood closer together.
While JPD doesn’t have specific data on the motives of behind burglaries, the department believes there is a strong link between increased drug use and this increase in crime.
In response to the increase in property crimes, the department is currently seeking a part-time employee to further address that issue specifically.