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APD chief says staff adjusted ‘really well’ to pandemic procedures

Officers, administration still operating at full capacity
A view of the Anchorage Police Department in Downtown Anchorage, Alaska. December 2020.
A view of the Anchorage Police Department in Downtown Anchorage, Alaska. December 2020.(KTU)
Published: Jan. 4, 2021 at 8:23 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - As COVID-19 continues to adversely affect communities around the world, Anchorage Police Department Chief Justin Doll said his department has been fortunate and has thus far responded well to pandemic-related changes.

“It has been a long year, but it’s been a long year for everybody,” Doll said. “I think the department is doing really well. I’m actually really proud of the police department, because 2020 has been a very stressful year — for all of us, again — but especially the police department, as we struggled with COVID; some civil unrest in Anchorage, which has been very civil; and just all of the challenges that everybody has faced this year.”

Those challenges tended to be magnified for police departments, the chief said, adding that he believes “all of our people performed exceptionally.”

“We’re still delivering service every day,” he said. “We haven’t had any service interruptions. We’ve been able to make sure that when you call 911, somebody answers and somebody shows up. So I feel really good about the way the department has handled this year.”

While the final numbers for 2020 are still being tallied, the department received approximately 220,000 calls for service by mid-December, according to APD Director of Community Relations MJ Thim. That figure includes both 911 calls and 311 calls, as well as any calls with requests specific to the Anchorage Fire Department, as APD also receives those but then transfers them as needed.

Doll credited extensive planning and detailed logistical outlines for much of the success of the alternative setup at APD, which includes a mix of common practices such as social distancing, staff working from home, extensive cleaning procedures and more.

“We had a massive amount of planning early in the year like most people did, as we sort of became aware of COVID and what that would be like,” he said. “Planning for the worst-case [scenario], if we didn’t have enough officers at any given time — due to sickness — to deploy on a daily basis. What does that look like and how do we maintain operational capability?”

Doll estimated that several million dollars in federal funding were provided by the Department of Justice to APD as a result of the pandemic, with most of that money going toward items such as personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies, contracting cleaning crews and several other purchases. The department received some money directly as part of a specific DOJ initiative that made a total of $850 million available to public safety agencies across the country. Of that, the Municipality of Anchorage was initially eligible for about $1.4 million.

At one point, the Anchorage Assembly also allocated $21 million as part of a First Responder Payroll Reserve fund to help cover costs of payroll for those individuals, though the municipality could not give an exact amount being distributed specifically for police work. However, as of a Dec. 22 meeting of the Assembly body, about $94 million total had been allocated to that reserve fund, according to Carolyn Hall, Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson’s director of communications. That money — which is split right about down the middle between APD and AFD, Hall said — isn’t being distributed directly to the two agencies, but instead serves as a different source of funding for payroll and thus frees up part of the General Fund for other pandemic response measures.

As for coronavirus cases identified in APD staff members, Doll could not provide an exact number but said the number of cases in the police force was manageable and did not affect service. The municipal data dashboard does not specify such information in its case counts.

“As we worked our way through the year, we did have people that tested positive, but we never had an overwhelming number,” Doll said. “Overall, our number was fairly low, and I think a lot of that was due in large part to the fact that we put a lot of effort into figuring out how our officers were going to continue working but try to protect them from becoming infected.

“The ultimate objective was to make sure they were still here doing their jobs every day,” he added.

The year was an intense one, he said, dealing with the pandemic and the effects of that, but prioritizing the safety of the community and health of the staff within the department were of utmost importance.

“Police officers are normal people just like everybody else, to the extent that this affects their family life as well,” he said, “making sure that they’re still able to come to work and get their jobs done. As an organization, we experience sort of on a macro scale all of the things that we each individually experience on the micro-scale in our lives.”

As for staffing numbers, and with a budget for the coming year already set for the time being, Doll said there is no plan to expand the APD force in 2021, though he intends to continue to move forward with various training sessions for staff members.

“But I feel like that’s a good discussion for 2021,” he said. “Does the community feel like we have enough police officers and that that level is adequate? We’re pretty close to 100% staffed.”

Doll also said that an information technology overhaul is also underway at APD, which will, for example, help the department answer more data questions more efficiently, as it moves toward improvements in the future.

“To the extent that 2020 has been a complete rodeo for everyone, it’s no different for the police department,” Doll added. “We’ve just been enduring those challenges alongside everyone else in Anchorage and trying to find ways around them.”

Additionally, 2021 marks 100 years of service for APD. A schedule of events is expected to be released later, which the department said will hopefully include a community celebration sometime during the summer, depending on the status of the pandemic at that time.

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