After a record high in 2017 vehicle thefts in Alaska's largest city are starting to trend downward, according to new data released by the Anchorage Police Department. 

"I'm proud to report that the numbers are starting to go down," APD Deputy Chief Ken McCoy said Tuesday. 

McCoy led a news conference with APD investigators, Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, new Anchorage District Attorney John Novak and U.S. Attorney for Alaska Bryan Schroder to release local car theft data for 2018.

APD's numbers show the amount of reported vehicle thefts rose steadily from 2015 through 2017, with a total of 3,122 in 2017 — an all-time high. 

At the start of last year, it appeared Anchorage was on track to set another record, with nearly 400 cars reported stolen in January, the highest amount for any one month during the last five years. 

But something happened mid-year, as the numbers started to dip below previous totals in July. They continued to fall, with November's 165 stolen vehicles marking the lowest monthly number in since June of 2016 when 132 car thefts were reported.

Overall, APD says 2,945 vehicles were reported stolen in 2018. That's a decrease of 177 stolen cars, or roughly 6 percent, from 2017.

McCoy attributes the progress to the expansion of Anchorage's police force and strengthened relationships between municipal, state, and federal public safety agencies. 

"We are really pleased about the numbers but our work's not done," he said. "We know the numbers are still high, and there's work we need to do to continue this trend." 

APD's vehicle theft arrests are up by roughly 11 percent from 2017, with 537 arrests in 2018.

When asked about the discrepancy between car thefts in the thousands and arrests in the hundreds, APD pointed to repeat offenders — people who are responsible for multiple car thefts  — and ongoing investigations into other crimes discovered while investigating stolen vehicles. 

APD Lt. Jared Tuia said he believes drugs are the driving force behind most car thefts. 

"They have to have the drugs," he explained. "They have to have that, because otherwise they're gonna get sick." 

Berkowitz says there's more to the solution than making arrests.

"We have to do more with drug and alcohol treatment, with mental health," Berkowitz said. "All these components fit together." 

Moving forward, it's unclear whether car thefts will receive the same level of prosecutorial attention from the Anchorage DA's office. Novak has said he will prioritize domestic-violence homicides, sexual assaults, cases of child abuse and neglect, and cases involving strangulation. 

On Tuesday, he said he recognizes car theft is also a big problem in Anchorage. 

"That's a lower priority than people being raped, little kids being sexually assaulted, and us having — typically — women die at the hands of their abuser," Novak said. "And so you know, we will continue to try to pay attention to other offenses like vehicle theft to the extent our resources allow, but we have limited resources and I and my bosses are all committed to the priorities of the office. And so I think, I would hope, that most of the people here in our community would understand that."

APD officers investigate a stolen vehicle on Feb. 4, 2019. (Photo Courtesy: John Thain // KTVA)

On Monday, APD officers located a stolen Ford Explorer in Mountain View and arrested the driver. A spokesperson said the SUV was unlocked with a set of spare keys inside when it was taken. 

"We know that vehicle theft is a crime of opportunity," said McCoy, calling on the community to help deter thieves who are looking for an easy crime. 

Even on cold days, he urges Alaskans to resist the urge to let their cars warm up with the keys inside. He also suggests removing valuables and spare keys from cars and hiding anything else that might tempt someone to break in. 

McCoy suggested three words for drivers to remember: Lock, Remove and Conceal.

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