ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Anchorage Police Department on Wednesday announced the beginning of permanent, full-time patrols along the Seward Highway as far as Ingram Creek, effective immediately.
"It's going to be a bisible, continual presence by APD on the highway," said Anchorage police chief Justin Doll. "Obviously we're looking at traffic enforcement and maintaining some order there on the highway and good driving behavior. But it also means that we'll be responding to crashes and providing other police services like we would in any other part of the city."
The highway was patrolled by Alaska State Troopers until last summer, when the department closed its Girdwood post citing state budget cuts. After a legal tug-of-war between the two departments, APD began limited patrols along the highway last October, paid for by a one-time $200,000 legislative grant.
Since then, the Anchorage assembly passed a tax ordinance making about $4 million available per annum to fund police patrols in the long-term.
Under the ordinance, residents outside the Anchorage metropolitan police service area (communities like Bird Creek and Indian) pay an added property tax of about $11.22 per $100,000 of assessed home value. Residents inside AMPSA meanwhile will see a slight reduction to the mill rate.
"This new sort of highway enforcement area is really an area-wide function that the assembly created for the police department," Doll explained. "It's something that is supported by the entire city, by taxpayers everywhere in the city."
Turnagaim Arm voters also narrowly approved another tax hike during last year’s municipal election to fund the new Turnagain Arm Police Service Area, which allows APD to respond to 911 calls from within those communities. Chief Doll says the new highway patrols could help with those calls to service as well.
"Already being present on the highway would mean that our response time could be shorter for them," he said.
APD says any unspent money left over from the legislative grant will be used to pay for extra enforcement on heavy traffic periods like Memorial Day weekend.
The department also announced that it will be increasing its presence in Eagle River by one additional officer, bringing the total number of officers in that community to four per shift. For the last 30 years, only three officers have been assigned to Eagle River.
Doll said increases to the department's staffing levels were key in making the expanded police services possible.
"I think that our ability to be here is really the result of having that increased staffing and all the work we’ve put into the department over the last couple years," he said. "It gives us the ability to be here and not reduce service levels in other parts of the city."
"That patrol footprint is just going to get denser and denser, you’re going to see more and more officers out on the road, more officers patrolling neighborhoods and parks and trails and all the things the community’s been asking us for," he added.