The victim of a recent kidnapping has claimed that her abductors have gang affiliations and may even have been involved in a handful of Anchorage homicides this summer. The Anchorage Police Department has stated they have not been able to prove any of the homicides are connected or are related to gang activity.

Retired APD officer Scott Lofthouse explained some of the difficulties the department faces in investigating possible gangs in Alaska. He worked in the gang intelligence unit until it closed down in April 2014 due to loss of funding.

“One of the problems with the gangs in Anchorage, because they’re racially diverse, it’s very difficult to identify exactly who is in a gang, unless somebody tells you,” he said.

He noted that in the Lower 48, gangs tend to stick to specific racial groups and can be identified by a particular color and gang sign. Here, he said, gangs can use more than one color so long as there’s something identifying them as members of a gang, like a symbol or phrase or even the gang’s name.

Lofthouse also said Alaska statutes outline what defines a gang, and that it takes time to validate one, much less identify members. He said under state law, at least three people have to be in a group and commit at least two felonies as a group during a three-year period before they can be classified as a gang.

“We think that felony crimes are the most serious, and they are, but a lot of the gangs never breach that threshold, and so I had a bunch of gangs that I was never able to validate so I never got to follow any crimes on them. All they did was misdemeanors,” he explained. “You can’t validate a gang member until you validate a gang; it’s like a chicken or egg thing.”

He said he first started hearing about the group known as Fight Squad — mentioned in charging documents against the three kidnapping suspects — around the end of 2013 or early 2014, before the unit was shut down.

“But I didn’t have a chance to really get in-depth into investigating them and identifying the members and validating the gang,” he added.

He said the kidnapping victim’s accusations that one group was targeting members of another group could be classified as gang activity, even though neither group is validated as a gang.

“I think gang intel is important in being able to understand the motivations behind the crimes, you know, the motive of the crime, but I don’t know as it really helps in the prosecution,” he said, noting that gang information can be more useful in preventing crime, rather than reacting to it when it’s already happened. “There’s always indicators of things that are going to occur, and that I think is the one thing gang intel will help is to proactively stop and mitigate the amount of crime.”

When asked how gang activity could affect the general public, he said 90 percent of Alaskans would be safe. He admitted there have been a few cases where people in the wrong place at the wrong time or who looked like a person being targeted by a group were hurt.

“But as long as you’re not doing activities that they’re doing, associating with them, hanging out where they hang out during the days and times that they’re doing things, you have very little likelihood of being involved in any kind of gang activity or gang crimes,” he said.

KTVA 11’s Daniella Rivera and Shannon Riddle contributed to this report.