Anchorage Police Chief Ken McCoy says he wants the department to improve investigations into non-fatal shootings by expanding ballistics testing, which he hopes will reduce violence and prevent homicides. He said he also wants to prioritize how police handle lower-level drug crimes in order to better address community concerns.
McCoy, 51, was appointed as police chief in June by Mayor Dave Bronson and confirmed to the job by the Anchorage Assembly at the end of July. He has been with the department for about 27 years and is the first Black police chief in the department’s 100-year history.
During a swearing-in ceremony Thursday, McCoy said he plans for the department to focus more on the use of technology, strengthen state and federal partnerships to address gun violence, enhance investigations into lower-level drug offenses and other lower-level crimes of public disorder, expand operations to detect and intervene in human trafficking and work with governmental and community partners to address issues related to homelessness.
He spoke in more detail about his plans for the department during an interview Friday with the Anchorage Daily News.
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
Q: What are some of the main priorities in your plan for the department’s future, and how will you address those issues differently than how they have been handled in the past?
McCoy: The first component of that was better using technology to address some of the gun violence that we’ve seen. And I specifically want us to focus on what we would call non-fatal shootings — so those are shootings where people are shot or property is shot up. We have a very robust and expansive response to homicides, and I want to see a similar response in the form of crime-scene processing and ballistics testing in those non-fatal cases. What we know is a small percentage of people are committing these acts of violence and if we’re able to intervene earlier and investigate, detect and connect these little random shootings around town, we probably are going to be able to pinpoint a small select group of people who are involved and we will be able to apprehend and prosecute them before their actions become a homicide...
I want to use more of the technology that’s available to us, primarily in the form of ballistics. ... It just hasn’t been used to its fullest potential and reinvigorating that partnership with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to fully utilize that technology is what we’re interested in doing...
We are going to be focusing more on some of the lower-level drug offenses and crimes of public disorder — and they kind of go hand in hand. We’re talking about crimes that really impact the quality of life for our citizens here in Anchorage, crime such as vandalism, trespassing, what I would say is brazen shoplifting, where people go into a store and load up a basket and just walk out without paying. Or the neighborhood suspected drug house where cars are just coming and going at all times and we’ve received complaints that there’s drug dealing going on there, or on the street corner and in parking lots. ...
We’re going to be just refocusing some of the work that we’re already doing on these lower-level offenses. Most of the time we’re looking at the interdiction and working with our partners to stop the drug flow coming into the community. And we’re going to continue our efforts there, however the more visible things that the public sees are what’s going on in their neighborhood or on the street and we can devote some more attention there, also.
Q: What are your thoughts on the public input the department has received about the body camera policy draft?
McCoy: I’m pleased with the feedback that I’ve received, I’ve had many conversations with members of the community about body-worn cameras and we’ve received great feedback from the online portal. Our team is working on incorporating what we can. ... My hope would be for us early next year to be able to have the system in place and the policy in place and have our officers outfitted with the cameras.
Q: During your confirmation hearing, you told Assembly members that the department has continued to work on reducing wait times for public records requests. Where is the department at with that right now and how will it be impacted by body camera footage?
McCoy: We’ve significantly impacted our records requests backlog so it’s within normal processing times now — one to two weeks of making a request. Requests involving audio and video, that’s an area that’s still a challenge just because of all that goes into redacting that type of media. ...
Body cameras coming online will add an additional burden because there will be so much more video being produced and requested that demand will increase and that backlog will become a challenge to manage. So we’re definitely going to have to evaluate and see if there will be a need for increased staffing to accommodate.