APD discusses tools available to law enforcement in addressing panhandling, homeless camps

Updated: Jun. 2, 2021 at 4:30 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Anchorage Police Department gave public presentations during an Anchorage Assembly public safety committee meeting Wednesday on the processes and tools available to law enforcement when it comes to addressing homeless camps and panhandling.

Anchorage Mayor-elect Dave Bronson has said the department will have a “front row seat” to part of his new approach to addressing the city’s homelessness problem.

“We’ve got to encourage people to not live on our streets anymore after we’ve provided the shelter space that we’re required to provide them,” Bronson said during a news conference on Tuesday.

With just under a month to go before Bronson is set to be sworn in as the city’s next mayor, he has not released specifics on how he intends to utilize law enforcement in his strategy, but assembly members heard from APD Tuesday on what options they have already.

APD officer Araceli Jones gave a presentation on Anchorage’s camp abatement process, explaining that in most circumstances, there’s a 10-day waiting period before the area can be cleared.

Acting Chief Ken McCoy also spoke about APD’s options when it comes to addressing panhandling, noting that a city ordinance passed in 2011 prohibiting panhandling was deemed unconstitutional by the Alaska Supreme Court in 2014.

The city has several areas of code it can fall back on to deem a homeless camp “illegal” and subject to being abated, including the city code sections on trespassing on private or public property, on the allowed uses for municipal land and on limitations to camping in city parks.

“We have other tools that we are able to utilize to address the criminal behavioral aspects of these as they occur,” McCoy said. “And again, there are oftentimes many other underlying issues that need to be addressed in the areas of behavioral, mental health and substance abuse.”

When it comes to addressing other behaviors that are sometimes associated with panhandling, such as consuming alcohol in public, littering and public excretion, McCoy said those are considered code violations rather than criminal offenses. He also said some of the commonly related criminal offenses, like disorderly conduct and trespassing, are typically handled by issuing a citation.

McCoy said there have not been any instructions to officers to avoid enforcing the laws associated with those actions.

“Officers have full discretion to investigate and enforce all ordinances and statutes,” he said.

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