Drivers likely have little love for the police officers who tow their cars or issue them traffic tickets. But the city is appealing to voters’ wallets when it comes to Proposition 9, and hoping the changes the ballot measure will introduce will avoid a big cost increase when it comes to keeping those officers on the job.
The city charter allows only certified police officers to hand out tickets and tow cars, and the Anchorage Police Department employs a group of three Community Service Officers, or CSOs, to do just that—and only that.
“As menial as it seems, parking problems are a really big deal in Anchorage,” said APD Sgt. Roy LeBlanc. He’s in charge of the department’s traffic unit, including the city’s three CSOs. LeBlanc says the problems are especially bad in winter and during snow removal. “The threat of abandoned vehicles can really bring down the quality of life.”
But the CSO’s in Anchorage currently can’t do their job. That’s because the Alaska Police Standards Council, or APSC—the group that certifies police officers in Alaska—decided in late 2013 that CSOs don’t qualify as regular police officers.
Now APSC says it will no longer certify officers like CSOs, and without APSC certification, city code won’t permit the CSOs to perform job.
That means the city would have to replace its CSOs with fully-certified officers, at an extra cost of $40,000 a year.
Beyond the expense, LeBlanc says it wouldn’t be a good use of resources.
“Someone has to do parking enforcement, and if we don’t send CSOs we have to send sworn officers,” LeBlanc said. “And if they do that, they won’t be able to deal with other issues.”
That’s where Proposition 9 comes in. It’s a ballot measure amending the city’s charter to allow “other employees of the Anchorage Police Department”—not just fully sworn officers—to issue tickets, tow violators, and impound vehicles.
“This isn’t about expanding enforcement,” said Municipal Attorney Dennis Wheeler, who prepared the economic summary of the potential change for the city. “It doesn’t change how we do things. It just maintains the status quo, in light of the state’s understanding of who these officers are.”
Wheeler writes that the change will “allow the Anchorage Police Department to provide the same level of service” to vehicle violations. “Without the charter amendment, enforcement costs will go up or services will have to be curtailed.”
The additional $40,000 cost to the city, Wheeler says, comes from the $61,000 a CSO is paid, versus the $71,000 salary paid to a full officer.
LeBlanc says he thinks the city could easily use more than three CSOs—“I could put six to work and keep them busy,” he said—but he emphasized Prop 9 won’t expand the CSOs and will essentially let the officers the city already has get back to work.; work CSOs had been doing for nearly 30 years before the new interpretation came down from APSC.
If voters pass the proposition, it’ll bring an already-drafted city ordinance in front of the Anchorage Assembly. That new ordinance will be voted on after a period of public comment before the change is enshrined into law.
Prop 9 doesn’t ask voters to love traffic tickets or getting towed, but the city hopes voters will support it at the ballot box in April to keep the costs of a necessary if unpleasant reality of city life to a minimum.