Police have no plans to change training on deadly force use

Casey Grove

Facing criticism over recent fatal police shootings in Anchorage, including the suggestion that officers not "shoot to kill" in certain situations, city officials say officer training with firearms will not change.

Still, a spokeswoman for Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan said he is open to expanding the police department's options for nonlethal tactics when dealing with people who might do them harm.

Police procedures in those tense situations, when an officer must make quick decisions on how to subdue a threat, came up in a Friday meeting between Police Chief Mark Mew, representatives from Sullivan's office and leaders in the local Polynesian community.

Mew called the meeting after community organizers scheduled a rally for Saturday called "One Voice. One Cause" to urge police to reconsider their lethal force policies.

The meeting and protest come after state investigators deemed an officer's actions were justified in the shooting death of Shane Tasi, a 26-year-old wielding a long stick on June 9 in Mountain View. Another officer-involved shooting on Sunday night killed 59-year-old Harry Smith, whom police say pointed a BB gun at officers in the Jewel Lake area. On Wednesday, an Alaska State Trooper shot 35-year-old Anchorage resident Albert Samoa Maifea after a high-speed chase in Wasilla. The man pulled a handgun on the officer, troopers said. He suffered non-life-threatening injuries, troopers said.

Emerging from the Friday meeting, Miriama Aumavae, the executive director of the recently founded Polynesian Community Center, said she was pleased with what the police chief had to say and was glad to have a chance to explain a few things to him about the Saturday rally.

"We're just trying to say, 'Hey, these shootings are happening more than we expect,' " Aumavae said. "I think from him hearing our point of view, he probably understood. It was really productive."

The protest -- and a picture of a raised fist on posters announcing it -- are not to convey anger, but rather a "power to the people" message, Aumavae said.

The police chief told the dozen or so people in the meeting that the Anchorage Police Department's tactics for using lethal force are in line with those of other police departments in the United States, Aumavae said. While asking for better communication and other options for officers -- including shocking devices, called Tasers -- Aumavae and the other community leaders have urged police to consider training officers to try to disarm suspects rather than mortally wound them with a gunshot.

Mew declined to comment after the Friday meeting, but the mayor's spokeswoman, Lindsey Whitt, was there and spoke to the Daily News on behalf of the chief and mayor.

"The training that officers receive for tactical shooting policies will not change," Whitt said. "Are we looking at other options for less-than-lethal force, communicating to this particular group, if there's an issue, maybe bringing them onto the scene to help, or using Tasers? Yes, we're looking at that." Whitt said it's likely that Mayor Sullivan will put in a request to state legislators to add funding so the department can buy more Tasers.

Meanwhile, the protest is still set for noon Saturday at Far North Bicentennial Park, starting at the ball fields in Far North Bicentennial Park on Martin Luther King Avenue and followed by a march to police headquarters.

Anchorage Daily News