Anchorage store owners report increase in shoplifting
Some store owners around Anchorage say they're frustrated by an uptick in shoplifting in their businesses -- and the Anchorage Police Department's lack of response.
John Staser, co-owner of Mountain View Sports says he believes it stems, in part, from Senate Bill 91 -- a criminal justice reform bill passed by lawmakers last year that eliminates jail time for some offenses.
District Attorney Clint Campion agrees that's part of the problem.
"The deterrent value is not really there, and people believe that they can commit crimes, including up to felony thefts, including vehicle thefts, without really any consequence," Campion said, who was a victim of theft himself earlier this month.
"I had some things stolen from my vehicle in the last month and I’m guilty of my own lack of reporting because I didn’t think it would be worth my time, I didn’t think it’d be worth APD’s response time," Campion said.
Staser says it can take APD hours to respond to shoplifting in his store and arrests are rare.
Expensive sporting goods, handguns and high-end clothing make Mountain View Sports a prime target for theft. Staser says the store can get as many as three shoplifters a week. He believes the people who steal from him are doing so to fund drug addictions.
"It’s been a steady increase over the last several years," Staser said. "I think it follows the increase in heroin and drug use in Anchorage."
Staser says neighboring businesses have had a similar experience. The owner of Blue and Gold Boards, next-door to Staser, was thrown from a car trying to catch a person he believes was stealing from the store.
"It’s quite frustrating that these people are allowed to steal with impunity. It’s a huge problem," said Stacer.
Rep. Matt Claman, who is on the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission which made recommendations for SB 91, says it's not that police can't arrest shoplifters under the new law, it's that the police department doesn't always have the resources to do it.
"I also hear from police officers saying, 'If every time somebody stops us for a theft at the drug store or a theft at Carrs, we're supposed to put them in a cop car and drive them down to jail'. They actually lose the ability to respond to more serious crimes," Claman said in an interview Wednesday. "I don’t view this as anyone’s fault. The legislature’s actually working really hard to address the challenges that we can make a difference on."
In the meantime, shop owners like Staser say they're worried about having to defend their property themselves -- and that in the process, someone might get hurt.
MJ Thim, spokesperson for APD, told KTVA no one in the department was available to speak on the issue Wednesday. In a prepared statement, Thim said:
"SB 91 hasn't changed what we do -- which is investigate crimes. The courts determine the penalties based on the law."