ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Anchorage Police are exploring a new way to clean out illegal camps: a grid system where entire swaths of the camps are cleared out rather than an individual camper. APD would still have to give a camper 10 days notice, but after that 10 days the grid, about the size of a park, would be removed. Police say this is a way to avoid an illegal camper moving just a few hundred feet away from their current location.
A tree doubles as a bike rack at a homeless camp near the Chester Creek greenbelt.
"It will be more efficient and more effective in cleaning those camps out," Capt. Mike Kerle with APD said.
The plan isn't approved yet. Kerle says it will be discussed next week by city leaders. Meanwhile, Thursday morning as a scourge of mosquitoes swarmed, two city trucks were seen clearing up a massive camp site along the Chester Creek greenbelt.
Now, with school out, school resource officers have begun patrolling the trail system. That means an additional eight to 10 officers during the day on the trails with a few Community Action Policing officers patrolling at night.
Kerle says those officers will be assigned to different parts of town when complaints come in from the public.
"They'll choose the areas where we have complaints from citizens that there's high crime or areas they deem as problem areas," Kerle said, "we want to have the most bang for our buck."
Anchorage has 223 parks with 250 miles of trails; 135 of those miles are paved. Most famous is the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, which hugs Cook Inlet, weaving its way to Kincaid Park. It's almost a given you'll see purple and blue light reflected off the snowcapped mountains of Mount Susitna, or "Sleeping Lady," Fire Island, and on a good day, Denali. Ask anyone on the trail what they love about it and you'll get as many answers as there are miles of trail.
"Cross country, ski, bike, walk, hike, we're out all the time," Leslie Dean said as she walked through Westchester Lagoon with her retired sled dog, Chica.
Jonathon and Naomi Halpern came through the park just before Dean with their dog Prudhoe.
Naomi rode her scooter while Jonathon tried to keep up with the cairn terrier.
"It's really fun here and I love when my dog chases me," Naomi said.
Still, illegal camps and the crimes associated with those camps have affected many trail users who are tired of feeling intimidated by the people in the camps.
The problem has gotten so large that last year the city launched an online reporting portal for homeless camps that allows users to pinpoint the exact latitude and longitude of homeless camps using an interactive map.
Kerle says it will take a community effort to solve the city's homelessness problems, which includes housing options. During an interview Thursday afternoon he continued to stress that the trails are safe and people should enjoy their time in the parks.
"We all need to work together to solve the problem of homelessness and addiction, and when we do that a lot of the illegal camps will go away," Kerle said.