A statewide public opinion poll conducted by the Justice Center in late 1994 reveals that the majority of Alaskans are satisfied with the quality of life in their communities and believe that their communities are good environments in which to raise children. Moreover, most Alaskans consider their communities to be safe and are willing to become involved in police and public safety efforts. (A previous article, "Community Problems in Alaska: Public Perceptions," Alaska Justice Forum 12(2), Summer 1995, discussed other data from the same survey).
The telephone survey was part of a larger research project undertaken with the Alaska Department of Public Safety and was funded by a federal grant from the Office of Justice Programs. Interviewers contacted a statewide sample of 603 residents. In an effort to avoid bias, interviewers explained only that the survey was being conducted for the University of Alaska; the Department of Public Safety was not mentioned.
Quality of Life
As part of the survey, respondents were asked several questions on the quality of life in their community. When asked how they felt about their communities as places to live, Alaskans from all areas of the state expressed satisfaction (Table 1). Statewide, 45.8 per cent said they were "very satisfied" with their communities, and 39.9 per cent, "somewhat satisfied." When responses are examined by the area of Alaska in which respondents resided, satisfaction levels are not conspicuously different.
Respondents were also asked how much they felt they could affect what happens in their communities. As the data in Table 2 indicate, 77.2 per cent reported believing that they themselves or their families could make "some" or "a lot of" difference in improving their communities (54.9 per cent believe they and their families can make "some" difference; another 22.3 per cent believe they can make "a lot of" difference). On the negative side, however, roughly 20 per cent of Alaskans believe they can make "very little" or "no" difference in improving their communities. Looking at responses by area of residence again shows some minor differences between residents of the five areas; however, the differences are not statistically significant.
Yet another quality of life question elicited respondents' opinions on their communities as child-raising environments (Table 3). The question was designed to prompt respondents to think about any number of things associated with a child-raising environment, including schools, safety, day care and other services, familial support, even crime and delinquency. Large majorities in all areas of the state reported a belief that their communities are good places to raise children. The strongest agreement with the statement came from the Valdez/Kenai/Mat-Su region, while rural Alaska respondents and those from Anchorage are slightly less likely than respondents in other areas to believe their communities are good child-rearing environments.
Survey respondents were also asked several questions dealing directly with their perceptions of crime trends and community safety. Again, as with the quality-of-life measurements, the results to these questions indicate a general perception of Alaska communities as satisfactory environments.
Alaskans are split in their perceptions about crime trends; however, over half believe crime in their communities is staying the same or decreasing (Table 4). Four out of every ten Alaskans believe that crime in their communities has "stayed the same" (41.6%); 10.6 per cent think crime in their communities is decreasing. Forty-three and a half per cent perceive crime as either somewhat increasing or greatly increasing. Residents of Fairbanks are considerably more likely than those in other areas to believe that crime has either somewhat or greatly increased. A higher proportion of rural Alaskans than residents of other areas believe crime has stayed the same, and fewer rural Alaskans than others believe that crime has increased to any extent in the past year.
When questioned about their level of worry about violent crime, fairly equal numbers of respondents statewide declare they never or infrequently worry — 34.1 per cent and 32.1 per cent, respectively (Table 5). Close to one-quarter of adult Alaskans (23.7%) occasionally worry about becoming a victim of violent crime, while 6.9 per cent frequently worry and 3.2 per cent always worry.
Willingness to Assist with Public Safety
The degree to which residents are willing to become involved with police and public safety efforts also reflects, at least indirectly, their sense of community. When asked if they were willing to assist with public safety efforts, a strong majority throughout the state replied that they were willing (Table 6). Interviewees were also asked several questions to gauge the extent and parameters of their willingness to actively support public safety. With rare exception, the adult Alaskans who were interviewed expressed a willingness to report crime and suspicious activities, to identify themselves to police, to assist police and victims, and to testify in court.
Table 7 displays responses to six specific questions on respondent willingness. The table shows no significant differences in willingness by respondents' area of residence. Of those tasks examined, Alaskans are least willing to identify themselves to police when they have witnessed a crime: Overall, 7.1 per cent are unwilling — to some extent — to identify themselves. This unwillingness is strongest in Anchorage and in rural Alaska, where 8.9 per cent and 10.0 per cent are at least somewhat unwilling; but, when the sample margins of error are considered, even these variations from other areas cannot be considered substantive.
The data obtained from the survey questions discussed in this article reveal that Alaskans have, in general, a high level of satisfaction with their communities; fear of crime is not particularly strong; residents perceive their communities as safe; and they feel that it is within their powers to affect the life of the community.
While the perceptions are not necessarily related to the actual incidence of crime and other public safety problems, they nevertheless indicate a moderately strong sense of community well-being. In addition, Alaskans reveal a strong willingness to contribute to the well-being of the community when called upon in situations involving public safety.