Alaska’s largest city was all a twitter on Saturday because a Delaware company operating a website called 24/7 Wall St. out of New York proclaimed Alaska the most dangerous state in the U.S.
The Friday proclamation of danger featured a photo of an Alaska grizzly bear, but the story wasn’t about bear maulings. It was about crime.
Alaska had the 12th lowest murder rate in the country in 2016, according to 24/7, and yet somehow it ended up at the top of the 24/7 list of dangerous states. KTVA.com in Anchorage quickly picked up the 24/7 report and rewrote it, never bothering to question how a state with a relatively low murder rate could be the most dangerous in the nation.
“By examining the FBI’s 2016 Uniform Crime Report, which was released this week, the report found that Alaska is the most dangerous state in America, and concluded that Anchorage is the state’s most dangerous city,” KTVA.com reported.
“The report states that in 2016, there were 804 violent crimes per 100,000 Alaskan citizens, 52 murders and 409 adults per 100,000 residents were imprisoned.”
The imprisonment rate was something of a surprise, but not because of the number. The surprise was that the rate in Alaska was the 16th lowest in nation. KTVA did not report that fact.
Nor did the website of the TV station make any mention of the low murder rate, and the reference to Anchorage as the state’s “most dangerous city” was badly misleading.
What the 24/7 report said was that Anchorage was the “most dangerous metro area.” There are only two “metro areas” in all ofAlaska. One is the Fairbanks Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) and the other is the Anchorage MSA , a metro area which happens to include the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.
With only two metro areas from which to choose, one or the other was going to get picked as the “most dangerous.”
Crime is a hot topic in the Anchorage metro area at the moment. Alaska is in a serious recession. Crime has a bad habit of going up during recessions. At KTVA.com, commenters had a lovely debate about whether Anchorage is or is not a dangerous place to live.
Against that backdrop, it is worth noting that the data in the 24/7 report is for 2016, and in Feb. 2017 – after that data was collected – 24/7 declared Alaska second on the list of “America’s Happiest (and Most Miserable) States.
“Alaskans report a higher degree of well-being than any state other than Hawaii,” the website said. Where that conclusion came from was not revealed.
24/7 is big on these best-of/worst-of listicles because they drive web traffic even if they tell you almost nothing.
Alaska’s number-two happy rating last year appears as random as the most dangerous rating this year. Happy Alaska had the fourth highest unemployment rate in the nation. People out of work is generally considered a bad thing.
“Some 31.5 percent of the state’s population earn both relatively low incomes and lack adequate access to a grocery store, the third highest such proportion nationwide,” 24/7 added. “Still, Alaskans report fairly good physical health. Just 7.6 percent of adults have diabetes, 27.5 percent have high blood pressure, and just 9.2 percent report recurring poor physical health, each among the smallest shares of all states.”
Health is a good thing, but how 24/7 determined that all those poor Alaskans are as happy as their wealthier neighbors was not explained anywhere in the small copy block attached to a nice photo of fireworks bursting over Anchorage.
The latest 24/7 conclusion does, at least, seem to be based on more substantive data. Alaska’s most dangerous ranking appears tied directly to “violent crimes per 100,000.” Alaska’s rate of 804 per 100,000 is the highest of any state.
“In the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, violent crime is composed of four offenses: murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. Violent crimes are defined in the UCR Program as those offenses that involve force or threat of force,” the FBI says.
Alaska has an unbelievably high rate of aggravated assault: 540.6 per 100,000, according to the data.
Alaskans appear to fight a lot. Take those fights out of the equation, and the data on Alaska looks different. Alaska is dangerous in the sense you might get in a fight, but not that dangerous in the sense you might get killed.
The state does, however, have a frightening rape rate of 141.9 per 100,000. No other state comes close. New Mexico is a distant second at 73.3 per 100,000 – half the rate of Alaska.
The statistics would indicate it is fair to call Alaska a dangerous place to be a woman, but given the high rate of aggravated assault and the small rate of imprisonment, there are good reason to question how serious all of those aggravated assault.
Anyone who has spent much time going through court records in Alaska will recognize that a lot of assault charges get dismissed or reduced to misdemeanors in plea deals. Whether that’s because the court system doesn’t take assaults seriously enough or because law enforcement is over-charging in an effort to make it easier to secure plea deals is impossible to know.
But there are a lot of reasons to question Alaska’s ranking as “most dangerous” based solely on the FBI report.
On the other hand, the 24/7 report looked only at crime and ignored another big, Alaska danger problem: accidental death.
Despite Alaska’s few roads, the National Safety Councils says the state ranks number 10 in unintentional deaths. In most states, motor vehicle accidents are the big killer, although the national leader in unintentional deaths – West Virginia – has a huge opiod problem.
In Alaska the unintentional death problem is suicides, drownings, four-wheelers, snowmachines and more.
“While there are general similarities in the rankings of causes of death between Alaska and the United States, the differences in rates are notable, especially for accidents and suicides,” the University of Alaska Anchorage Justice Center noted in a 2013 report. “… Alaska has a high rate of death due to unintentional injury for reasons such as many people being employed in high-risk jobs (i.e., mining, construction, oil extraction, and fishing) and regional characteristics in rural and frontier areas (i.e., weather conditions, occupations and lifestyle, and great distances to health care).”
And then there is another issue that probably doesn’t get enough nearly enough attention in this state: race.
“Alaska Natives face extraordinarily high rates of domestic violence, sexual
assault, child abuse, juvenile suicide, and alcohol and substance abuse,” the U.S. Department of Justice Tribal Consultation on Public Safety in Alaska Native Villages reported just a year ago. “Earlier this year, the Justice Department’s National Institute of Justice released a study showing that more than four in five Alaska Native women — and more than one in three Alaska Native men — have experienced violence in their lifetimes.”
One might break down the actual danger of Alaska in this way:
- Very dangerous if you are Native woman.
- Dangerous if you are Native man.
- Less dangerous if you are a white woman.
- And pretty safe if you’re a white male.
Data on Alaskans of color is hard to find, but in general the same gender distinctions apply. Women in Alaska are more likely to be victims of crime than men, and the risks generally are higher for anyone of color than for Caucasians.
Sadly, to some degree, it appears that how dangerous Alaska depends to a significant agree on who you are.