ANCHORAGE (KTUU) As relationships between police departments and the communities they serve come under scrutiny across the United States, Anchorage and its police department are no different. On Friday, the Anchorage Assembly met in a work session to discuss a possible revival of the Anchorage Police Community Relations Task Force. The group has existed since the mid-80s, but in recent years the force has gotten smaller. One of the questions Friday’s meeting sought to address is what led to the decline.
“The [Anchorage Equal Rights Commission] conducted a survey many years ago to determine how to engage task force members, and received concerns from members about the meeting day and time, the length of the meeting, the frequency of the meetings, and the leadership of the task force,” said Anchorage Equal Rights Commission Senior Investigator Stephanie Jedlicka, who served on the task force from 2013-2018.
She added that another issue was that in recent years, the task force has tried to expand its scope, without adjusting its bylaws, which haven’t been updated since 2012.
“Per the bylaws, the task force can only accept and address complaints involving the Anchorage Police Department, however task force members often spent considerable time and effort attempting to review items that are non-jurisdictional, such as Department of Corrections and School District Issues,” she said.
Jedlicka was part of the administrative support the AERC provided to the task force, support that was recently rescinded.
“That was good until about two months ago, three months ago,” said Reverend William Greene, current chair of the APCRTF and one of its co-founders.
The loss of administrative support has put the task force in an awkward spot, both in terms of membership and financial support. The APCRTF exists as an independent organization, so the Assembly, and the municipality, have relatively little control over its actions, though it has historically participated and supported the force. Greene added that Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz has recommended they file for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, which he has declined to do.
“The mayor works for us,” he said. “We don’t work for the mayor.”
The group was originally founded as a partnership between the Anchorage community and the Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service, though as time has gone on, the DOJ’s participation, along with that of many other organizations, has fallen off. But at Friday’s meeting, a representative from the CRS offered a way forward for the group.
“We are committed to facilitate a series of dialogues where Anchorage residents are encouraged to attend and actively participate, to identify issues and concerns, prioritize those concerns, and develop proposed solutions that could be implemented with a timeline,” said DOJ CRS Conciliation Specialist Knight Sor.
For now, no action is being taken to change the task force, but Assembly members indicated they were eager to hear the community’s thoughts on the task force moving forward, both at the meetings Sor offered, and in other discussions.
“I just want to welcome any of the speakers, and any other members of our community to give us specific feedback, and specific instruction on what you think is right, so that we can do the right thing,” said Assembly Vice-Chair Austin Quinn-Davidson.
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