Anchorage

Outgoing Anchorage police chief shares hopes for department’s future, reflects on changes in policing

Friday marked Anchorage Police Chief Justin Doll’s last day on the job after he stepped into the role in 2017.

Doll will officially retire in June, but he’s taking the next few months off to use accrued leave. Deputy Chief Ken McCoy has been selected to serve as acting chief until June. The incoming mayor of Anchorage — who will be elected in a May runoff between candidates Dave Bronson and Forrest Dunbar — will appoint the next police chief. Doll said he hopes McCoy will land the position permanently.

In an interview with the Daily News, Doll spoke about challenges the department will face in the future and shared his thoughts on how policing has changed, especially over the past year as national attention has focused on police reform after George Floyd’s death. Floyd — a Black man in Minnesota — died at the hands of a now-former police officer, Derek Chauvin, who was recently convicted of murder.

This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.

Anchorage Daily News: What do you think is the biggest challenge the next police chief will face?

Doll: I think probably the biggest challenge externally is going to be continuing community conversation and maintaining the community’s trust in light of the national discussion about policing. I think the good news is that Anchorage is really well positioned for that — we have a good police department and there is a lot of trust between the department and community.

We don’t have some of the same issues that they have Outside, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t work to be done there. And I think even though that relationship is good, the daily barrage of negative national narrative chips away at that. I think maintaining that in the face of what’s happening nationally is going to be a challenge. I totally think that our department is up to it, and I especially think that D.C. McCoy is the right person to carry on with that.

ADN: What are your thoughts on the number of officer-involved shootings that occur here in Anchorage?

Doll: Every time we have an officer-involved shooting, the department looks at it and tries to determine if there’s something that we can learn from it, to improve our operations for the future. And as tactics, techniques, technology, all of those things evolve, we always want to see those numbers go down. An officer-involved shooting is not something that anybody at the police department ever wants to have to be involved in. We’re always looking for ways to reduce those numbers.

ADN: What are your thoughts on the verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial? And how do you think the death of George Floyd has impacted policing?

Doll: I think the jury came to the correct conclusion. I think that there’s no question in anyone’s mind — that was a homicide, and I’m glad to see that they came to the appropriate outcome.

In some ways I think it’s been good for policing because I think it’s caused the entire profession to pause and take stock of the way that we provide service to our communities. And I think it’s also increased public engagement with our police department. I think anytime you have more public engagement that’s positive for a police department — no police department can function without the trust and faith of the community that they serve. It really is in some ways sort of a turning point for the profession. And I think it’s needed. I think that it’s good that we’re looking at the way policing happens in America and trying to make it better.

ADN: As the municipality prepares to launch the mental health first responder team, APD has said that a large portion of calls will eventually be rerouted to those first responders, essentially decreasing the overall call volume for APD. What impact do you think that will have on the number of officers needed and policing in general?

Doll: I think this question gets asked fairly often, and I think that generally the undertone is, “Will we be able to have less officers as a result of this?” And I think the answer is no for Anchorage.

We just went through a smaller police department, and overall we didn’t like the outcome — we saw increased crime and problems that went unaddressed. And so I don’t think it’ll be reasonable to look at the police department and say, ‘Well, now it can be smaller.’ I think what you will see is now the police department will have more time to address a lot of the concerns around town that still sometimes go unanswered, like the neighborhood nuisance type issues where it can be harder to get a patrol officer to have time to address it because of the current workload. I think those things will improve.

A lot of the criminal cases that come into the police department that maybe don’t get as much investigation as the complainants might like — I think you’ll see improvements in those areas. I think overall it will allow us to shift our workload onto more traditional law enforcement issues, which I think will be better for the community.

ADN: APD faced some controversy earlier in the year over the What Not To Do Wednesday social media campaign regarding the tone of the posts and the accuracy of the events described. What are your thoughts on that? Do you think the department should have handled things differently?

Doll: I think that was a really good engagement tool. I realize there was some critical feedback, especially toward the end, but I think what gets missed in that discussion is that we had tons and tons of positive feedback throughout the course of that engagement campaign. I think it was very effective in some ways — it did bring people to our social media platforms and again, those are engagement opportunities — people come to see that but then they see all the other things the department is doing and that’s good.

There were a couple of points where we had some challenges and we’d really tried to create a system of oversight so when those posts went out, they had been vetted. At the end, we had a couple that went out that really weren’t vetted properly. There was, I think, some justifiable community concern about that. And ultimately we decided to discontinue it. I think if you have an engagement strategy that ultimately creates more concern than it does benefit, then it’s no longer useful. And we’d been discussing moving to a different strategy for a while anyway, and I think that feedback from the community just really highlighted that it was time to move on, so I’m glad that we made that decision. I always appreciate feedback from the community on the things that we’re doing.

ADN: What are some of the things you’ve done as chief to increase transparency at APD, and what are some ways that you think the department could be more transparent — not just with the media, but with the public?

Doll: When I took over, I really believed it was important for the department to put out as much information as possible when we had some kind of critical event, as soon as possible. For example, when there is an officer-involved shooting, about 30 minutes later we’re putting that out to the public with as much information as we have from the scene, and within an hour or two we’re doing a press conference. I think that’s really important for that public trust. We’re back to publishing the police department’s policies online and doing it in a way that they stay up to date.

I think as we move forward, obviously body-worn cameras and the way that system gets used is a huge opportunity for transparency between the department and the community. That’s probably the next big step on that topic.

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