Anchorage Downtown Partnership pushes 8-step safety plan

The head of the Anchorage Downtown Partnership is pushing what he calls an "eight-step plan" to make downtown Anchorage a safer place, with proposals that range from adding more cops to training visitors to call security if they see someone jiggling locks on car doors.

In a presentation to the Anchorage Assembly's public safety committee last week, Jamie Boring, the partnership's executive director, said he wants to make downtown safer and more inviting to visitors.

His proposed plan also included a request for a dedicated safety van to pick up drunk people in the downtown area and a contract with a private security company for late-night bar patrols.

Boring's presentation was the latest indication of how downtown agencies are trying to cover gaps left by the city's overtaxed police department, beyond the recent launch of a security hotline.

Boring's organization, a nonprofit corporation funded by a special tax on downtown businesses, offers services that include cleaning up the streets, responding to incidents and rousting people sleeping on the street early in the morning.

[Anchorage faces a grim year as Berkowitz unveils deep cuts in 2017 budget proposal]

"Every community in Anchorage has concerns about what's going on with public safety," Boring said in an interview. "The Anchorage Downtown Partnership is no different. The only difference is that we are delivering a product of community policing."


His plan has these elements:

  • Training downtown residents, employees and visitors to observe and report suspicious activity.
  • Dividing downtown into six grids and assigning a “security ambassador” to each, with two security supervisors in vehicles for the entire area.
  • Re-establishing a downtown “beat” for the Anchorage Police Department and dedicating two officers each shift to the downtown area, while increasing enforcement of anti-smoking laws and other ordinances.
  • Working with the city homeless coordinator to increase contact with adults and youth who are living on the street downtown and struggling with substance abuse and mental illness.
  • Dedicating an Anchorage Safety Patrol van, which responds to people who appear to be intoxicated in public, to the downtown area.
  • Finding a way for private security companies to be more involved with responding to incidents outside of their immediate businesses.
  • Contracting with a private security company to patrol the bar-break hours.
  • Allowing companies to hire ambassadors for special security details.

City officials said they would consider Boring's proposals that would require city resources, but made no commitments. The city is facing a steep budget deficit for the upcoming year.

"All of the points are good points, and at least worth exploring as we try to get a handle on this increase in crime," said Assembly member Bill Evans, chair of the public safety committee.

He added: "I think it's a pretty serious proposal. I don't know if we'll be able to do all of his points, but I think some of them may be good, efficient solutions to some of downtown's problems."

APD Chief Chris Tolley said during the public safety meeting he hadn't discussed Boring's proposals with anyone. He noted adding police downtown would mean taking them away from another part of the city.

Tolley and other police officials have said the department doesn't yet have the manpower to do traditional "beat" policing, where cops are responsible just for certain areas of the city.

The director of the city health department, Melinda Freemon, made a similar comment about the idea of a dedicated Safety Patrol van. She said a van would come at the expense of covering other areas.

The Anchorage Downtown Partnership generates revenue of about $1.1 million a year through a tax on downtown business owners.

The yellow- and orange-vested ambassadors — referred to by some downtown street regulars as "bumblebees" — patrol 120 city blocks, from Gambell Street to L Street and First Avenue to Ninth Avenue. They wash the streets, pick up trash and clear sidewalks in winter.

Boring said the ambassadors currently function as a stand-in for police or private security. He presented data showing the organization conducted 34,105 security checks this year.

He also showed pictures in the slideshow of a shattered window at a Fourth Avenue building and people sleeping outside wrapped up in electric blankets, plugged into outlets near Peratrovich Park.

The ambassadors don't carry guns or pepper spray, Boring said. He said the ambassadors are trained to "get between you and the problem," but aren't supposed to touch people.

He said the grid proposal is aimed at making ambassadors more efficient in responding to calls, and more in touch with businesses in those areas.

Boring also said the downtown partnership is preparing to offer "awareness" training to people who visit and work downtown. He said the goal is to encourage more vigilance about potential problems.

"When you're walking past someone who is facedown on the concrete, and you just step over them … we want to train away from that," Boring said. "We don't want the apathy."

In February, Boring and Andrew Halcro, executive director of the Anchorage Community Development Authority, started to share security resources and use a single dispatch system and a hotline for people to call to report suspicious behavior, maintenance issues, or to ask for a safety escort.

Assembly Vice-chair Dick Traini said the Assembly would consider some of Boring's proposals in the upcoming budget process.

"We have to decide as a body what we're going to cut," Traini told Boring. "If you really want (more) downtown, we have to figure out where we can get the assets from."

Devin Kelly

Devin Kelly was an ADN staff reporter.