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Anchorage police to add officers downtown during bar break

Nathaniel Herz,Kyle Hopkins

Anchorage Police are adding eight officers on weekends to patrol the downtown area during bar break, the city announced Friday.

The effort comes after meetings between Police Chief Mark Mew, Mayor Dan Sullivan, and Municipal Manager George Vakalis about a week and a half ago, following discussions with a local restaurant and bar trade group, Mew said in an interview Friday.

Bar break -- the period immediately after bars close, which is at 3 a.m. on weekends -- often devolves into violence and mayhem as hundreds of patrons spill out onto the street. Last month, a 38-year-old man died after suffering injuries in a bar-break brawl.

"We want to make sure that everyone can enjoy the downtown district and feel safe in our city," Sullivan said in a prepared statement

At the meetings, police sat down with Sullivan and made recommendations about what could be done to increase public safety downtown, Mew said.

"We already had an idea of what we wanted to do. And the mayor wanted to talk about what we might do," Mew said. "We discussed it and I think he liked our ideas, and said, 'OK, go do it.'"

Police have already had four extra officers downtown on overtime shifts over the last two weeks, Mew said. The new efforts, however, will include more officers, and they will be working 'straight' time, not overtime.

Mew said he was able to schedule officers on those shifts because recent attrition had freed up extra salary money in his budget.

The city will continue to monitor police staffing downtown and could add as many as seven more officers if necessary -- up to 15 total, said a spokeswoman for Mayor Dan Sullivan.

"If they need more, we'll dispatch more," said Lindsey Whitt, the spokeswoman.

Standard patrols downtown range from two to four officers, according to police spokeswoman Jennifer Castro.

Mew had previously suggested that bar owners cover the costs of extra officers working during bar break, but he said that did not come up in his recent discussions with Sullivan.

"I don't know what the mayor's thinking on that is. We're always willing to talk about it," Mew said.

Mew added that police would also be upping enforcement efforts at Town Square Park.


By NATHANIEL HERZ and KYLE HOPKINS
Anchorage Daily News