APD Preparing for Girdwood Policing Proposal
By Marc Donadieu
Glacier City Gazette
With Girdwood’s service contract with the Whittier Police Department (WPD) expiring Dec. 31, 2019, both WPD and Anchorage Police Department (APD) are expected to submit bids for a multi-year contract starting Jan. 1, 2020.
Girdwood Board of Supervisors Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC) held a work session near the end of Aug. to allow APD to hear what type of policing Girdwood residents want and explain the services it offers. The meeting helped APD and WPD refine their proposals to meet the expectations of the community.
APD Chief Justin Doll and Deputy Chief Kenneth McCoy were at the center of the session as they listened to concerns and asked questions. Whittier’s Interim Director of Public Safety Greg Russell was also present. Russell and Doll said their departments are not competing with each other for the new policing contract.
“Chief Russell and I have talked a couple of times about this issue,” Doll said, “and we’re in firm agreement that we’re not in any way, shape or form competing over this proposal. APD is happy to step into this role if it makes sense for everybody involved or not.”
The meeting began with retired Alaska State Trooper and PSAC Member Mike Opalka expressing approval for APD’s increased presence on Seward Highway and the positive effect it has had for safety.
“My compliments to you and your department,” Opalka said. “I like seeing them out there. The more the better. I appreciate them on the road. When I was there, I was the only one and only got out there about three days a week. I couldn’t do much. There is definitely a significant improvement. Thank you.”
Chief Doll began his presentation by noting what had changed since 2016 contract bidding when APD proposed an urban policing model that was more expensive and offered much more coverage than the community wanted. At that time, APD’s base of operations in Anchorage was far away from Girdwood.
Circumstances changed in Feb. 2018 when Anchorage Assembly passed the Highway Law Enforcement Ordinance, which allowed APD to patrol the Seward Highway outside of the Anchorage Metropolitan Police Service Area (AMPSA). APD now regularly patrols the highway from MP 112 at McHugh Creek to MP 75 at Ingram Creek. Their presence makes for a much quicker response time compared to being dispatched from Anchorage.
Chief Doll indicated APD is shifting its policing model to be more neighborhood oriented, which would be in synch with Girdwood’s expectations.
“APD is poised to easily provide any service level that Girdwood felt was appropriate in their community,” Doll said. “Overall for our agency right now, we’re really pushing throughout the entire agency, to get back to a more neighborhood centric type of policing.”
Doll said he wants patrols in Anchorage to have boundaries similar to neighborhood community council districts. With the same officers consistently patrolling, they get to know the community and understand what the concerns and problems are in that area. Each part of town has different issues, and APD would strive for the same model in Girdwood.
Doll sees another benefit as well.“Having been a long time patrol officer with APD,” Doll said, “as soon as you have about 20 minutes of seniority in the police department, you start pestering the supervisor to get to your part of town, wherever it is, because officers love to patrol the same part of town. You get to know the terrain. You get to know the people and the issues. It’s good for everybody involved.”
PSAC Co-Chair Mandy Hawes said WPD reviewed its policing data to adjust its patrols over time to reflect the needs within the community. She expressed hope APD would also gather and share policing statistics similar to WPD.
“The other wonderful service that we’re getting now and would like to retain is statistics on this community,” Hawes said. “A lot of people really didn’t understand that there was a need. We’ve established that there is a demand for this service. Those statistics have been helpful for us and Whittier as they patrol to see what the bigger problems are in Girdwood.”
Doll responded that all documentation is in the system and is converted into data and tracked. A community crime map online is generated from that activity and is publically available.
Deputy Chief McCoy said APD is learning a new style of policing by getting to know the smaller communities rather than just responding to calls. He said the practice yields important dividends for all sides.
“It has been a culture change for us,” McCoy said. “We were understaffed for so many years. Our officers were just on call to call to call with no breaks in between. Now that we’ve started to grow, and we have a little more time, we want our officers to know it’s ok to slow down to talk to people and get out and say hello.”
Doll pointed out a possible key difficulty in getting awarded Girdwood’s policing contract.
“The challenge for your group would be to convince the rest of the world that paying less than what everybody else is paying in Anchorage is paying for something that looks very similar is ok,” Doll said.
“From a police perspective, that’s what we all work at and that’s what we’re going to do. If it becomes a political issue, can you sell that?”
For example, problems could arise if Eagle River and Hillside say they want the same price for policing as Girdwood, even though it would receive less service. Doll deferred any specific answer to this complex question.
“It is going to be an Assembly/Administration question to see how that works out,” Doll said. “I can speak to the operational part, which I think is fully achievable the way the department is currently structured. This is my opinion. The hurdle there is to convince everybody else that paying less and getting something that looks and feels about the same. How does that work? That’s the commentary I’ve heard from Assembly members on both ends of town.”
Because Girdwood Service Area exists outside of AMPSA, Girdwood can contract for policing without Assembly approval. If a potential policing contract’s cost exceeds the current tax cap, a vote by Girdwood residents would be needed for approval.
Municipal Liaison to Girdwood Kyle Kelley offered perspective on the contract process between APD and WPD. He suggested the process would move faster working internally and negotiating with APD and one legal department to figure out a contract. Kelley said there will be a need to also push for discussion with Whittier and its city manager.
“After we got past the vote, we went into negotiations,” Kelley said. “What probably the largest lag time was two city attorneys working together. We’re now 15 months until the contract expires. We need to keep pushing as much as possible in the first half, by the end of first quarter, so we know where we are and know what we are going to do.”