Cordova Chronicles: Cordova ranked Alaska’s safest city

FBI report ranks cities based on crime scores

Overlooking the Cordova Boat Harbor on Feb. 19, 2017. (Photo by Cinthia Gibbens-Stimson/The Cordova Times)

Based on a report by the FBI, Cordova is Alaska’s safest city. Anchorage TV station KTUU announced this information on their Feb.1 statewide Evening News report.

The FBI gave Cordova an overall safety score of 4.95 crimes per 1,000 people. Kotzebue was ranked the state’s least safe city, with an overall safety score of 43.89 crimes per 1,000.

The data used by the FBI covered the year 2015. The overall score was calculated by averaging the violent crime safety score and property crime scores.

Not surprisingly, Anchorage came in ranked 21 out of 24 Alaska cities, with an average of 24.94. By comparison, the national overall safety score in 2015 was 14.35 crimes per 1000.

Not to speak too critically of the “Other Alaska,” as some call Anchorage, which contains 300,000 of Alaska’s 736,000 citizens, but since 2007 it has never ranked higher than 12th in safety.

It seems like every KTUU Evening News Report include incidents of robberies, shooting, hit and runs, or homicides.  Not too many years ago, a stray bullet from a nearby shooting went smashing into the home of Bud and JoAnn Banta, former longtime Cordovans who retired and moved to the Big City. The slug went between Bud and Bobby Maxwell, who were sitting at the dining room table, and grazed a button on Carol Maxwell’s sweater, before landing on the floor.

So much for a quiet visit with friends in Anchorage.

Police collected the evidence, and determined the bullet’s trajectory indicated it came from Huffman Road. No arrests were ever made.

Cordova is a safe place. We casually expect it. Perhaps foolishly, rarely locking cars or doors is a local habit. I am amused to watch newcomers secure their vehicles on Main Street. And I can’t tell you how many times I have locked keys in my truck while on a shopping safari in Anchorage, because I never press the lock buttons in Cordova.

One time, it was the end of a long day loading up my truck, and I was rummy. After pulling up in front of a Cordova store and walking 20 feet to pick out what you need, shopping in those big box stores is exhausting. I was at a hardware store picking up special line for my weed wacker, cutting it a bit close for time to drive to the Whittier tunnel. When I went back out, sure enough, there were my keys smiling at me in the ignition, with the doors locked.

Desperate, I raced back in the store,  trotted over to the counter, and said “I’ll buy a six pack of cold beer for the first guy that can unlock my truck.” My older Ford F150 has manual locks. Two guys vanished behind the counter, and within five minutes I was back in the driver’s seat, making a quick run to a nearby store for the promised payoff before roaring down the highway. Of course, on the drive to Whittier, it dawned on me that any criminal in the Big City could undoubtedly enter my truck just as quickly.

Cordova is trusting. We routinely leave tools and equipment in the backs of our trucks, on our boats, or out in our yards.  One time I forgot my wallet when fueling up at the Shoreside pump, and told the clerk I’d be back in a few minutes to pay. Try that in Anchorage sometime. She actually laughed, and said “Don’t hurry

In Cordova, you dodge seagull poop, not bullets. Inquiries through the local police department revealed that the last murders here occurred 39 years ago. In 1978, a man shot and killed someone above the Club Bar for messing around with his girlfriend.  There was also a murder/suicide that year.

Unfortunately, in more recent times there have been several property crimes, and more and more locals are locking their doors. Perhaps our property crime rate has gone up a little since 2015. Since the overall crime rate is found by averaging the violent crime rate and the property crime rate, and our violent crime rate is almost zero, that means the property crime rate would have to be around 10 per year to give us an overall score of 4.95.

And yes, like in many other cities in Alaska, and the nation, there are problems with drugs. Everyone is searching for answers to that one.

It’s no secret that when the weekly paper comes out, one of the first things many Cordova Times readers turn to is the last page, for the LAW & ORDER report. It lists all the incidents reported to the Cordova Police in the preceding week, and typically fills one-sixth of the page. The report in the Feb. 10 edition covering Jan. 27 to Feb. 2 had to be quite a let-down. On three of seven days, it said “Nothing to report”.

Can you imagine how much such space such a report would require in the daily Anchorage paper?

It is safe to say that the results of the FBI really wasn’t news to us. We already know that safety is one of the reasons so many of us live here, in the safest city in Alaska.

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Dick Shellhorn is a lifelong Cordovan. He has been writing sports stories for the Cordova Times for over 50 years. In his Cordova Chronicles features, he writes about the history and characters of this Alaska town. Alaska Press Club awarded Shellhorn first place for Best Humor column in 2016 and 2020, and third place in 2017 and 2019. He also received second place for Best Editorial Commentary in 2019. Shellhorn has written two books about Alaska adventures: Time and Tide and Balls and Stripes. Reach him at