‘It did happen’: APD claims stories in controversial posts were real, resists efforts to verify claims

Published: Feb. 24, 2021 at 8:08 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Anchorage Police Department explained its decision to retire a long-running social media campaign it calls “What Not To Do Wednesday” in a lengthy Facebook post Wednesday morning, claiming the events described in the posts were all real, despite releasing previous statements this month suggesting otherwise.

Alaska’s News Source started asking questions about the truthfulness of the posts and their purpose earlier this month after a post on Feb. 3 sparked concerns among community members that APD appeared to be making light of serious issues facing Alaskans, and in this particular post, mocking a potential victim of domestic violence. Another post published on Feb. 17 drew similar concerns.

For more than three years, APD has posted narratives on Facebook titled “What Not To Do Wednesday” and the department has defended the posts as a lighthearted take on situations police officers experience on the job.

Alaska’s News Source has attempted to verify whether the events described in the posts happened as police say they did by requesting public records and information and asking police to have an open conversation about its public safety messaging on camera.

APD has not released the requested public information, has denied repeated interview requests and on Friday, announced the decision to discontinue the social media campaign all together.

READ MORE: In response to community concerns, APD to retire ‘What not to do Wednesday’ social media campaign

In an emailed statement from APD on Feb. 3, APD Community Relations Specialist Cherie Zajdzinski-Shirey wrote, “These stories are based on real events over the span of several years. We also may use a combination of different events and stories at our own discretion.”

Megan Edge, a former public information officer for the Department of Corrections, who now works for the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska, is one of several community members who have expressed concerns about the posts.

“I think there needs to be a standard that whatever they post is fact,” Edge said. “It’s not misinformation, it’s not embellished, it’s not made up stories — that is propaganda, and the community is paying for it.”

After previously admitting in the written statement that situations presented to the community as fact in it’s “What Not To Do Wednesday” campaign might actually be combinations of events and incidents spliced together to create new scenarios, APD released a message to the community on Wednesday claiming the narratives were real.

“The events, the situations, and the circumstances we told were real. It did happen. It may not have always led to an arrest. Many of our experiences don’t. It doesn’t make them any less real much to the chagrin of our critics,” APD wrote.

But according to APD’s account of events in both of the “What Not To Do Wednesday” posts that sparked concerns this month, the incidents did end in arrests, which would generate case numbers, arrest records, charges and other public information APD’s Community Relations Unit has refused to release, citing privacy of the individuals involved.

APD’s message posted Wednesday also claims that as the department was releasing statements earlier in the month defending the campaign, plans to end it were already being discussed.

“WNDTW was going to end. We always knew it. That was the plan,” APD wrote. “A few months ago, we started the dialogue again about retiring WNDTW after seeing a small increase in negative feedback. We dug a little deeper and found an increase of people feeling hurt. It was an indicator that the effectiveness of the posts was changing. We knew it was time to start thinking about when to end it.”

APD went on to state the series was used as a teaching tool inside classrooms, but did not respond to a request from Alaska’s News Source seeking to verify that claim.

While APD acknowledged in Wednesday’s message that its words were hurtful to some community members, the department’s message did not offer an apology. The message also cited calls from community members to continue the campaign as a sign of success.

“Your disagreement with that decision was LOUD and we heard you,” APD wrote. “Your feelings regarding WNTDW proved that we had accomplished what we had planned to with the post and then some. From the bottom of our hearts, THANK YOU.”

It's WHAT NOT TO DO WEDNESDAY! What a ride it has been.... #WNTDW We started What Not to Do Wednesday (WNTDW) to build...

Posted by Anchorage Police Department on Wednesday, February 24, 2021

APD did not respond to another request for an interview Wednesday or questions seeking to verify claims made in its latest post.

APD has refused to identify the employee who has been paid to write and produce “What Not To Do Wednesday” posts for more than three years and did not respond to an inquiry about whether APD Chief Justin Doll approved Wednesday’s message to the community before it was posted.

On Feb. 9, Alaska’s News Source filed a records request seeking the APD case number and other public information associated with the incident described in its Feb. 3 “What Not To Do Wednesday” post that the department’s Community Relations Unit refused to provide.

Two weeks later, that request is still pending.

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