How bad's economy in lower 48? Gangs are heading to Alaska

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Tough policing and prosecution of gang members has largely knocked some outfits onto the ropes, and police statistics show violent crime down as a whole last year.

But the number of gangs and gang members continues to swell in Anchorage. Whether lured north by a slumping Lower 48 economy, efforts to escape trouble down south or just moving with their families, individual gang members have been moving in with increasing frequency over the past two years, according to police.

"We're just having a tremendous growth in gangs right now," said Scott Lofthouse, the police gang intelligence officer. "The violent crime itself has gone down, way down. But what we're finding is that a larger percentage of the violent crime is being done by gang members."

The weak economy has prompted a lot of people from the Lower 48 to head this way in the past 18 months to two years, sometimes for jobs, the Permanent Fund check or both, Lofthouse said. Families move up and the children bring their past, sometimes involving gang membership, with them, he said.

Gang numbers in Anchorage have been consistently rising in recent years. A recent police tally counted more than 125 suspected gangs, 55 of which met the definition of gang set out in state law. That's up from 112 suspected gangs they counted as recently as December.

The recent count documented 354 validated gang members and about 2,400 suspected associates, up from 1,000 total in both groups in the December count.