Anchorage cops will resume foot patrols downtown for the first time in years, officials said Monday, as Mayor Ethan Berkowitz tries to make good on a pledge to beef up police staffing.
In an interview, Capt. Ken McCoy, commander of the Anchorage Police Department's patrol division, said the department had given up its foot-patrol team due to staffing shortages. The restored patrols are set to begin Nov. 25, the monster shopping day known as Black Friday. McCoy said he hopes to expand "walking the beat" to other parts of the city in the future.
McCoy recalled working the downtown foot patrol when he was a new officer in the mid-1990s. He said it was a good opportunity for business owners and members of the public to talk directly to cops, as well as offering more of a security presence.
"Downtown's an area where we have a lot of foot traffic from tourists and the public," McCoy said. "To have an officer intermixed amongst the public, it's a good use of our resources."
McCoy likened the decision to an extension of a summer program to station police downtown who work as resource officers in the schools most of the year.
Two officers will be stationed downtown on each of APD's three shifts, said police spokeswoman Jennifer Castro. The shifts run from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. and 11 p.m. to 9 a.m.
On the midnight shift, officers will patrol on foot until about 4 a.m., after the bars close, McCoy said. He said the patrol will then switch to vehicles for the rest of the shift, when the streets are mostly empty, McCoy said.
Police already regularly patrol downtown from behind the wheel, but those officers can be pulled to other parts of the city, McCoy said. He said the officers on foot will be dedicated to the downtown corridor, and come in addition to the vehicle patrols.
The decision to restore the patrol is a sign that the police department is rebuilding, McCoy said.
According to a department report, the force dropped to 319 officers in January 2015, lower than at any time since before the year 2000. The force has 387 sworn officers now, spokeswoman Castro said.
Berkowitz's 2017 budget proposal, which the Anchorage Assembly is expected to pass Tuesday night, calls for a $3.1 million increase to APD's budget. That money will pay for two additional police academies next year, which are expected to bring police staffing above 400 officers, a Berkowitz campaign promise.
City spokesman Myer Hutchinson said downtown foot patrol decision was made by APD, but the mayor "fully supports" it.
"Downtown foot patrol is a big step forward — it connects officers with the community and the community with officers, and that means a safer Anchorage," Berkowitz said in a prepared statement Monday.
A call for more cops downtown made up a key plank of an "eight step safety plan" pushed this summer by Jamie Boring, the head of the Anchorage Downtown Partnership. The plan included training for visitors to call security at the sight of suspicious behavior, and Boring pitched it to Berkowitz and members of the Anchorage Assembly.
Boring applauded the police department's announcement of the foot patrol Monday.
"It fits in right with the needs of downtown," he said.
Boring said it won't change plans to gear up private security efforts downtown, which he helped spearhead earlier this year in response to what he described as pervasive public safety concerns.
He said the Downtown Partnership is preparing to spend an additional $185,000 for added training for yellow-vested security ambassadors, and is also planning to put more ambassadors on the street in January.
McCoy said that the decision to renew downtown foot patrols wasn't related to a specific incident or a request from an organization.
"This is something we've wanted to do for quite some time," McCoy said.
Note: An earlier version of this article included the wrong date for Black Friday. It is Nov. 25, not Nov. 24.