Mike Dingman: Consider what our police do for us

On Monday four Anchorage police officers performed one of the most heroic acts of their careers - they spoke publicly about their job.

The Anchorage Chamber of Commerce's "Make it Monday Forum" this week focused on the day-to-day life of uniformed police officers.

We have all heard the rhetoric about salaries, have seen the list published every year with seemingly outrageous amounts of overtime and have heard discussion about the impact that police salaries have on the municipal budget.

For now, set that aside and focus on what police officers do during their average shift.

We were exposed to a side of police officers that the public rarely gets to see. Even though they all claimed not to be very good public speakers, they were all intelligent, eloquent and humorous.

They pointed out what a lot of us think we already know, but that we don't really know.

The APD has three shifts - day shift, swing shift and mid shift.

One thing to remember is that police work is inherently dangerous, regardless of what time of day it is. In a year day shift made more than 13,000 traffic stops.

Any police officer will tell you that one of the most dangerous things a police officer can do is make contact with a driver during a traffic stop - something that Anchorage police officers usually do alone.

Officer Jean Mills certainly would.

Officer Mills was shot on a traffic stop on DeBarr Road. She has returned to full duty and on her first shift back she made a traffic stop in the exact spot where she was shot.

Day shift and mid shift will respond to over 200 calls for service in an average day with approximately 20-26 officers on shift. Mid shift has a slightly lower call load, but the calls are generally more intense. They handle ten times the number of DUI's as well as half of the total number of domestic violence related calls.

The officers compiled statistics from between November 2012 to November 2013 to give us an idea of what a year in the life of the Anchorage Police Department brings.

The three shifts responded to 38,748 traffic stops, 8,227 traffic collisions, 12,013 "drunk" calls, 3,299 domestic violence related incidents, 6,593 thefts (including shoplifting) 5,043 rescue assists and 709 parties. (Which they point out that they were not invited to, but showed up anyway)

Police officers have to deal with the worst element of society on a daily basis. They never know when a "routine" call or traffic stop could suddenly turn deadly. They act decisively and deliberately in dynamic situations to a wide variety of both dangerous and seemingly mundane calls.

Faced with chronic drunks, people who are upset that they are being pulled over and criminals that would rather take the lives of a cop rather than return to jail, they maintain the extraordinary level of professionalism that has defined the Anchorage Police Department for decades.

Most of this, we already knew. While the specifics are interesting, and maybe a bit unexpected, (would you have guessed that APD responds to 225,000 calls for service?) we understand that they make traffic stops, deal with drunks, make arrests and remain poised and professional through it all. In one manner or another, we have seen it at some point in our lives.

For the most part, however, we take it for granted.

These men and women deal with the worst of society so that we don't have to. They take care of what happens while most of Anchorage is sleeping, so that we can wake up to safe streets and go about our day in blissful ignorance of the mayhem that occurred the night before.

Listening to these officers talk, you would not think they are uniformed patrol officers, but seasoned criminal justice professors with decades of research at their fingertips. They spoke intelligently and with vision about how proactive, rather than reactive policing can have a lasting impact on our community.

In the months to come, you are going to be bombarded with information about police staffing from both sides. The Anchorage Police Department Employees Association will argue that staffing is dangerously low while the Mayor's office will explain what a large part of the municipal budget the Anchorage Police Department eats up. The truth, as it usually does, will probably be somewhere in between the two sides' prepared rhetoric.

As you analyze these arguments - keep one thing in mind. How much would someone have to pay you to walk up to someone's car door 38,748 times and not know if that person is about to pull out a gun and start shooting?

Michael Dingman is a fifth-generation Alaskan born and raised in Anchorage. He is a former UAA student body president and has worked, studied and volunteered in Alaska politics since the late 90s. Email, michaeldingman@gmail.com.