Anchorage Downtown Partnership terminates Safety First program, citing unintended negative consequences
The Anchorage Downtown Partnership has changed the way its safety ambassadors patrol downtown streets, ending a program model, according to its executive director, that has resulted in unintended negative consequences, such as gaps in data on crime, and has increasingly led ambassadors to deal with situations better managed by the police or social services. suppliers.
Security Ambassadors are the partnership’s paid security guards who patrol the downtown area, working closely with the Anchorage Police Department and other emergency services.
The city center partnership, a nonprofit, ceased its Safety First program on January 1. The program was a collaboration with the Anchorage Community Development Authority that began in 2016. ACDA’s Easy Park ran a hotline that dispatched Safety Ambassadors in response to calls about issues in the downtown area.
The program has enabled businesses, property owners, residents and others to report issues such as disorderly or suspicious behavior, graffiti, begging, public alcohol and drug use, and needs such as garbage removal and sidewalk cleaning. The Downtown Partnership would then send its ambassadors to help.
Amanda Moser, executive director of the Anchorage Downtown Partnership, said the partnership reverts to a proactive model that sends ambassadors to patrol the streets and speak with business and property owners, acting as ‘eyes and ears’ downtown, rather than sending ambassadors to respond to acute issues.
Problems with the program surfaced in the summer of 2020, when the pandemic left the city center largely empty, devoid of usual tourism, Moser said.
“Empty spaces invite and welcome harmful activity, and so we started to see some really serious hot spots,” Moser said, “… especially Peratrovich Park and Fifth and Gambell,” she said.
As problems have worsened over the past two years, Downtown Partnership safety ambassadors have often been sent into situations they were not equipped for, Moser said.
“I started to really recognize that we were overwhelmed because we were responding to something that was so much bigger than we could address,” Moser said. “… Our team is not law enforcement and we are not social service providers. “
Another unintended consequence of Safety First: the program diverted calls from the usual emergency and non-emergency dispatch lines. This left a large gap in dispatch call data that the Anchorage Police Department uses to assess security needs in the area.
Data is “a fundamental part of how APD deploys its resources,” said Christopher Constant, member of the assembly, who represents the city center.
Constant said over the past few years he had continuously received messages from voters in the area telling him “the crime was just out of hand” even though the Anchorage Police Department had just moved its headquarters to downtown in 2019.
“How could it not get better?” Said Constant. “And then it happened to me one day.”
Safety First responded to nearly 12,000 calls in 2019, according to ACDA’s annual report. None of these calls were included in the ODA distribution data. This was undermining the data-driven ODA policing process, he said.
“If the Anchorage Police Department and Social Services make their decisions based on the database, then they had this huge data gap,” Moser said.
The return to the proactive model should allow security ambassadors to help protect larger areas of the city center, rather than continually heading to problem areas where law enforcement should intervene, he said. she declared. It will also help them notice problems occurring in other areas before they escalate to the level seen near Fifth Avenue and Gambell Street last year, she said. Large groups of homeless people gathered there and in June tensions peaked with a shootout that killed a woman.
“It’s crazy to think that this small non-profit organization… without police powers, is going to be able to solve police problems,” Constant said.
“Everyone was trying to do the right thing, a right thing, a hopeful thing. The problem is sometimes you can’t anticipate the kind of problems that might arise from the good you’re trying to do, ”he said.