City budget allots added $5M to police, fire

Image from Google Street View.
Image from Google Street View.

After campaigning to make public safety at top priority, Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz is putting millions of dollars towards more police officers and fire fighters.

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At a press conference Wednesday, Berkowitz announced an extra $5 million for the fire and police departments in his forthcoming budget. Most of the money will go towards running three police academies in the year ahead to increase the size of the force closer to a target of 400 officers. An additional 10 firefighters will also be hired.

Berkowitz says in spite of inheriting a projected budget deficit of $11 million, the administration has found a way to pay for additional public safety personnel.

“We were able to move some of the pieces of government around to do that. But also we’re looking at some adjusting the fines people pay–they haven’t been adjusted in 14, 15 years, and that should result in a significant addition, which should cover the cost of the academies.”

During the announcement, Berkowitz was flanked by both the outgoing and incoming police chiefs. The department has struggled to fill academies in the past, and incoming chief Chris Tolley [Tully] says they’ll try and recruit more from previously neglected communities that might make the force more reflective of Anchorage’s ethnic diversity. Outgoing Chief Mark Mew says new officers will be put towards a community policing model laid out in a 2010 report.

“The goal still–and always has been–implementing the PERF report. Certainly we will go back to that report, we’ve actually are brining the original author of that report back on contract this month to help spruce up that report, make sure it’s all valid and good to go.”

Staffing at APD has been a politically fraught issue in recent years, with the last administration canceling academies over fiscal concerns. Today’s press conference by the Berkowitz administration comes two days before it presents its 2016 budget to the Assembly on Friday.