The Anchorage Assembly will soon consider a proposed city charter change that would modify a 1997 parking enforcement ordinance to re-allow The Anchorage Police Department's community service officers to write parking tickets and impound parked vehicles throughout town. Until earlier this year, Anchorage's three community service officers had been doing just that for almost two decades. But a change in the way the state interprets what make a police officer a police officer has forced APD to put the brakes on CSOs writing citations of any kind. The department wants the city to change the charter to specifically allow CSOs to write parking tickets and impound cars.
But the change will not open the floodgates for ticket-writing -- the impetus for the 1997 ordinance passed after two Anchorage sisters led a citizens' revolt in the city's downtown core because of perceived overzealous enforcement by the old Anchorage Parking Authority.
The charter change is needed because the Alaska Police Standards Council -- which issues and maintains police officer certifications -- told APD it would not re-certify CSOs because they do not serve as police officers. CSOs do not make arrests, transport criminals or do other things associated with certified police work. CSOs are sworn officers within the Anchorage Police Department. They attend an abbreviated academy and take an oath. They do not carry a gun or a badge. Most of the work done by CSOs includes things that wouldn't be a good use of a full patrol officer's time -- transporting evidence, directing traffic at accident scenes, and other administrative tasks.
Until earlier this year, CSOs also had the ability to write parking violations and impound cars. That changed when the APSC told the city its CSOs cannot be certified as police officers because they do not do enough police work -- making arrests, responding to crimes, conducting investigations and transporting suspects -- to keep their certification current.
A 2010 ordinance passed by Anchorage voters created a downtown parking enforcement authority, allowing Easy Park, which is owned by the city, to write parking tickets in downtown Anchorage. But everywhere else in Anchorage, the 1997 ordinance allows only "sworn police officers" to write parking tickets. Until three months ago that included CSOs.
"Writing traffic citations and impounds are some one of the reasons for having the (CSO) position, but right now they cannot do those citations or impounds," said APD Captain Myron Fanning.
From the APD's perspective, having one of the dwindling number of Anchorage police officers spending time writing parking tickets or waiting for a tow truck is not an efficient use of the department's resources. The starting salary for a full-fledged APD patrol officer is $30.89 per hour, or $64,251.20 per year. CSOs are much cheaper for the department to utilize, with a starting salary of just $20.54 per hour -- $42,723.20 per year.
"You don't want your most expensive person in town writing tickets," Police Chief Mark Mew said.
Anchorage Assembly member Paul Honeman, a retired APD officer who began his law enforcement career as a CSO, said he expects to introduce the change to the Assembly within the next two months.
But any change to the way the city handles parking tickets can quickly become a political hot potato. APD insists the change is just an administrative one and would not be a rewrite of the 1997 parking ordinance.
"I was here in 1997. Those were ugly days," Fanning said. "That's not our intent; we just want to be able to allow the police department to do our job because we do have parking issues in neighborhoods."