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Polynesian community reassured after meeting with Anchorage police

Loren Holmes photo

A meeting between members of the Polynesian community and Anchorage police has cooled tensions after several fatal police shootings had left some residents shaken.

Citizens from the Polynesian community wanted answers in response to the June 9 shooting death of Mountain View resident Shane Tasi. Anchorage Police Chief Mark Mew called the meeting to clarify any misconceptions between the department and the community.

Last week the state of office of special prosecution found officer Boaz Gionson was justified in shooting 26-year-old Tasi, who came at the officer brandishing a broomstick and ignored repeated attempts to stop. The shots proved fatal.

The rally in response is still set for noon Saturday, but organizer Miriama Aumavae of the Polynesian Community Center, said many issues were cleared up by meeting with Mew.

Use of force

It all came down to perceptions, she said. The Polynesian community felt its questions weren't being answered beforehand.

“The whole meeting was based on clarity,” Aumavae said. “Just clarifying what's going on and where we stand in terms of the police department, the Polynesian community and the rest of the community, as a whole.”

Many of those misconceptions focused on the use of force. On Sunday Harry Smith was fatally shot by Anchorage police after brandishing an air gun that looked like a pistol. Then on Thursday, Alaska State Troopers shot 35-year-old Albert Samoa Maifea. Maifea led troopers on a car chase before fleeing the vehicle and brandishing a hand gun. He was hospitalized with injuries that aren’t life threatening.

Many have wondered why a Taser or some other less-than-lethal force wasn't applied with Tasi. Mew spoke to that, explaining that protocols for using a Taser are similar to other police departments across the country.

However, the incident caused him to reassess his view on outfitting the entire police force with the electroshock weapon. Only about 35 percent of APD's 380 sworn officers carry a Taser. Now the department will look toward equipping every officer with a Taser, according to Lindsey Whitt, communications director for Mayor Dan Sullivan.

About a dozen people attended the meeting, including representatives from Mayor Dan Sullivan’s office, Polynesian community members and the Anchorage Police Community Task Force.

Lucy Hansen, president of the Polynesian Association of Alaska, said everyone felt better about communication afterward. Police had reached out to the Polynesian community before a media briefing last Thursday, out of respect and to connect with them before talking to the general public. But only a small portion of the Polynesian community knew about that meeting, Hansen said. She was among those who didn’t.

The second meeting gave everyone a chance to connect and talk about solutions.

“We look at this incident as a lesson, as a reminder, too, that we have to build our community with unity,” Hansen said.

On Thursday, Hansen called for a town hall-style meeting with city officials. That meeting has been rescheduled from July 13 to the week of July 17. Details are still being worked out, but the meeting will be open to the public. Mew and representatives from the mayor's office will be present.

Continued outreach

Whitt attended the meeting Friday and spoke on behalf of the city. She said everyone agreed relationships between the city and the Polynesian community must be fostered. Everyone's contact information was passed out.

“So no one can say, 'I tried to reach you and I couldn't get through,'” Whitt said, “and agreed ... we need to get more people in the room.”

At the meeting, there was talk of failed efforts of the past, including an attempt in the mid-1990s to reach out to communities with high crime rates. However, Whitt said the city is looking toward the future.

That includes increasing public education. There is already a Citizen Police Academy, but Whitt suggested maybe an organization that focuses on educating the community on public safety might not be a bad idea.  

“Do we have this (the Citizen's Academy) in place already and have for a long time? Yes,” she said. “Can we do more things? Absolutely, that's what were talking about right now.”

Marilyn Stewart-Richardson, director of the office of equal opportunity for the municipality, said the city will work on greater outreach – which includes bringing officers to the community and planning information booths at events and workshops.

“We talked about being more proactive rather than reactive,” she said. “And the only way that you can do that is by reaching out and building that unity.”

Saturday rally

Aumavae considered the meeting successful, but maintained that she would still like to see more protocols to prevent lethal police shootings.

Saturday’s rally will start at the Far North Bicentennial Park ball fields. Following several speakers and songs, the group will walk down Elmore Road to Tudor, past Anchorage Police Headquarters. Several representatives from the mayor's office and police department will be present.

“Everyone can feel that peace and that we're standing together for a cause,” Aumavae said.

Contact Suzanna Caldwell at suzanna@alaskadispatch.com