City walks back decision to abruptly end contract for Anchorage Safety Patrol after pushback

After pushback from hospital officials and first responders, the Municipality of Anchorage on Friday walked back an abrupt decision announced a week earlier that would have terminated a contract with the company that operates the city’s sleep-off center and provides critical van services for people incapacitated by drugs or alcohol.

Public safety and health officials have said that abruptly pausing the Anchorage Safety Patrol program would place a significant strain on the rest of the emergency services system. There was no backup plan to address that impact, which would have hit the Anchorage Fire Department and hospitals the hardest. It wasn’t clear exactly how long it would have taken for another company to begin operating the program.

Each month, Anchorage Safety Patrol responds to about 1,000 calls largely involving intoxicated individuals found on city streets. The program’s emergency medical technicians transport people in vans to the sleep-off center, where they are held until they’re sober enough for release.

The city pays private security firm Securitas up to $2 million per year to provide those services. The company has operated the program since 2016 but failed to fulfill contractual obligations this year because of short staffing. Officials also have concerns about the level of care patients were receiving, said Michelle Fehribach, a spokeswoman for the Anchorage Health Department, which oversees the safety patrol program.

The turmoil surrounding the program and the critical services it provides comes at a time when Anchorage is grappling with its response to homelessness. The city closed its mass shelter at Sullivan Arena in the spring, sending hundreds of unhoused people with nowhere else to go into the city’s streets and greenbelts, and pushing homelessness and related challenges — such as substance misuse — further into public view.

This year, Anchorage has already reported a record number of outdoor deaths involving people believed to be homeless, surpassing the total for all of 2022.

The Anchorage Safety Patrol vans are contracted to operate 24/7 but have been out of operation at times during the last seven months, because there weren’t enough employees to operate them and also staff the safety center, Fehribach said.


During an emergency meeting called Friday morning to address the contract termination, Securitas’ Alaska district manager Doug Stewart said that the program has been fully operational in recent days, but they remain short on staff and have struggled to hire more EMTs. Stewart did not respond to messages left by a Daily News reporter.

Having the vans out of service has caused strain for the Anchorage Fire Department, which responded to roughly 3,600 calls from January through June that could have been handled by safety patrol, according to data from the fire department. They responded to 3,000 such calls during all of last year.

[Previously: A crucial van service in Anchorage’s public safety system is short-staffed, straining city fire and police]

The fire department was anticipating a 35% increase in calls without Anchorage Safety Patrol operations in place, assistant fire chief Alex Boyd said in an interview.

“It is not hard to imagine a situation in which every single one of our in-service ambulances is tied up either transporting or serving wall time at the hospitals with these clients, in addition to our regular patients that we treat,” Anchorage Fire Department Chief Doug Schrage said during Friday’s emergency meeting.

More than 70 people — including representatives from the three Anchorage hospitals, private ambulance companies, and the fire and health departments — attended that meeting with the Mayor’s Advisory Board on Emergency Medical Services to raise questions and discuss potential solutions for what was expected to be a temporary pause in service.

The Anchorage Police Department also anticipated that the pause in service would increase its call volume and lengthen response times, spokeswoman Sunny Guerin said in an email. Even if police responded to those calls, Guerin said, there was the issue of where to take people while the sleep-off center was closed.

If people were brought to the hospital for sobering, it would increase wait times and decrease the ability to care for others experiencing medical issues, officials from Anchorage’s three hospitals said during Friday’s meeting.

When there isn’t room at the hospital, individuals would be taken to a state Department of Corrections facility, where they would be held until they are sober enough for release, health department administrative manager Tamiah Liebersbach said during the meeting.

The announcement about Securitas’ contract termination came as a surprise to officials at the fire department and local hospitals. Boyd said he found out the services would end just minutes before the city health department made the public announcement.

Staffing levels had improved recently and the safety patrol vans had returned to full service, although they were still short-staffed, Stewart with Securitas told Assembly Health Policy Committee members in early July. Kimberly Rash, acting director of the Anchorage Health Department, said at the time that she felt Securitas was getting back on track but she still had concerns, including about the overtime Securitas employees were working. At one point, employees were working up to 80 hours per week, Rash said.

During Friday’s emergency meeting, Rash said there were “some additional incidents (with Securitas), which then required us to move quicker than we would have liked.”

In an email, health department spokeswoman Fehribach said officials have been “concerned about the level of care that people receive from ASP/C since the incident this past December when a Securitas staff member left an elder outside of the ASC.” Video of the incident’s aftermath circulated widely on social media.

Fehribach did not answer a question about whether there had been more recent incidents that caused similar safety concerns.

“We have been working with Securitas to make sure that new and existing staff are trained to care for and serve the clients that utilize ASP/C, who are in a particularly vulnerable situation,” Fehribach wrote in an email.

Anchorage Safety Patrol also faced scrutiny last year when a man was transported to the sleep-off center after being punched outside a downtown bar. He was unconscious when he arrived at the center and died in the hospital four days later. His family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Securitas and safety patrol.

Securitas’ staffing issues come amid a nationwide shortage of emergency medical technicians. The jobs are undeniably challenging, with pay offered at $18 to $22 per hour, according to data provided to the city by Securitas.


Employees are often exposed to clients who may be sick, using substances, or have mental health or medical issues, the company’s contract with the city said. Staff may encounter verbally abusive, emotionally unstable or ill clients.

The Anchorage Health Department on Friday, in its announcement that the contract wouldn’t be canceled after all, didn’t provide information about what changes will be made to ensure that Securitas is operating in compliance with the contract going forward. Fehribach didn’t immediately respond to questions about the decision. Officials from the city health department have said they’ve met weekly with Securitas for months leading up to the now-rescinded contract termination.

Securitas will continue to operate under its existing contract, Fehribach wrote in a statement.

Tess Williams

Tess Williams is a reporter focusing on breaking news and public safety. Before joining the ADN in 2019, she was a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota. Contact her at