The Anchorage Police Department recently decided to eliminate a staff position that had been specifically created to monitor the criminal activity of 20 to 35 gangs in the city.
APD's only gang intelligence officer has now been moved to the patrol unit to meet overall staffing needs at the department. That leaves some worried that unmonitored gang activity could lead to an increase in violence, especially with youth.
Gang activity and violence has ebbed and flowed in Anchorage over the past few decades according to law enforcement. One local youth advocate, who didn't want to identified, says he's worried about the impact gangs are having in Anchorage -- which he has seen firsthand.
"I've seen guys jump on one person, literally stomp a person out," he said. "And it doesn't take 15 people to beat up one person."
Violence is just one of several reasons why APD created a gang intelligence officer position several years ago. The department wants to identify and track gang members and their crimes, to put them in jail.
But now gang intelligence officer Scott Lofthouse is being moved into the APD patrol unit, His position is being eliminated.
"We think we will still collect good intelligence on gangs and other criminal behavior, but we are also having to balance the patrol force with the specialty units," said APD Chief Mark Mew.
Veteran APD Sgt. Derek Hsieh, who is also the president of the Anchorage Police Department Employees Association, says staffing problems have hit the department hard.
"I think the Anchorage Police Department has an interest in gang activity, but I am confident that once staffing recovers that's probably something that we will position to try to refill in the future," Hsieh said.
While Mew acknowledges the budgeting tensions, he is confident in the department's strategy.
"We are not giving up on addressing gang issues -- it's just we are spreading the work around in a way to react to the realities of our current staffing situation," Mew said.
Mew says the tracking and monitoring of gangs in Anchorage will continue but will now fall to the Alaska Analysis and Information Center, a federal, state, and local law enforcement intelligence center.
APD does have two police academies scheduled, which offer a chance to potentially strengthen the special units who regularly fight crime related to gangs.