The current state of Anchorage's Police Relations Task Force

Published: Jun. 15, 2020 at 11:10 PM AKDT
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As the conversation around improving police practices continues in Anchorage, one topic that has come up in protests and discussions among officials is a potential revival of the Anchorage Police Community Task Force. The group started in 1981 as a partnership between the Department of Justice and local community members in response to the shooting of an unarmed black man. For years, it investigated complaints and provided feedback to law enforcement, earning national recognition as an effective task force.

“I know when I served, there were regularly five to six complaints annually that we investigated as it relates to police brutality,” said Celeste Hodge Growden. Growden was a member of the force and currently serves as the president of the Alaska Black Caucus.

But in recent years, many of the organizations that once partnered with and supplied members to the task force have pulled out of the group.

“The FBI, the US Attorney,” said Reverend William Greene, current chair and one of the founders of the APCRTF. “The district attorney for Anchorage.”

Alaska State Troopers, and the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission have also left the force. As groups have pulled out, the force has also faded from the public eye, receiving less and less complaints.

“One, to two, to three people a year from the community go to the task force with concerns about the police department,” said Municipal Ombudsman Darrel Hess.

The task force occupies a unique position in Anchorage’s law enforcement environment. Because it started as a community group, it is not run by the Municipality of Anchorage, although city officials have historically participated. Growden said that independence was one of the group’s strengths.

“There’s a perception that if you take a complaint about a police officer to the police department for investigation, people think that it’s not going to really get resolved because you’re going to the same people that you’re complaining about to resolve the issue,” she said.

That independence has also put the force in an awkward spot for funding. Greene said that the current administration encouraged him to fill out an application to become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, but he took that as a sign of declining support from the municipality.

“We don’t work for him,” Greene said, referring to Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz. “And we expect him to work with us.”

But it’s unclear in many ways how the municipality can work with the force. Calls for a revival of the group at recent protests have caught the attention of some Anchorage Assembly members, but they said they need to know more about how they can interact with the force.

“I think right now the Assembly doesn’t have enough information to know, one way or another, what we should do, and so we need to have a public meeting of some kind to discuss it,” said Assembly Member Forrest Dunbar, who represents East Anchorage.

Dunbar said he requested a work session to address the issue, but Assembly Chair Felix Rivera said that other conversations need to happen first before the Assembly can address the issue in an official capacity.

“I’m most curious about getting a sense of what the community is interested in doing, given as that community relations task force was started by the community,” he said.

While the future of the task force is currently uncertain, Assembly members, protestors, members of the group, and the Anchorage Police Department have all recognized a value in it.

“We have been a community partner with this task force since its inception,” wrote a spokesperson for APD in an email to KTUU. “It originated as a forum for input and constructive dialogue between Anchorage community members and APD, addressing any issues of concern, complaints, and mutual objectives.”

So as the conversation around policing in Anchorage continues, the task force is likely to remain a part of it.

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